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It can't bail itself out

The tangled plot strands of 'Domino' ruin the coherence of the film about a young female bounty hunter.

October 14, 2005|Kenneth Turan | Times Staff Writer

Consumer alert: The people who made "Domino" actually created a flow chart and put it on the front cover of their scripts to enable them to keep track of what the press material delicately calls the film's "many characters and their interwoven relationships." No plans have been announced to hand out that chart at a theater near you, and that's a shame.

A fantasy based ever so loosely on the real-life character of the late Domino Harvey, "Domino" is so over-plotted that it's borderline incomprehensible. Absent that flow chart, figuring out exactly what is happening in this film is a real challenge for much of the time.

Of course, if you care about things like logic and coherence, you probably shouldn't be watching "Domino" in the first place. Its director, the flamboyant Tony Scott, says, "This movie is about heightened reality," which means it's a chance for him to blow things up, employ a lot of stunt people and fool around with a variety of film stocks and processing techniques.

This lack of deep-dish seriousness is probably news to screenwriter Richard Kelly, who previously wrote and directed the very different "Donnie Darko." Those informative press notes claim he sees the film as having allegorical elements relating to America's poor overall healthcare system. Who knew?

What "Domino" is really about is the opportunity to make use of one of the hot young things of the moment, British actress Keira Knightley, in a role that allows her to wear racy clothes, brandish shotguns, give a lap dance and say naughty things in a terribly posh accent. Comments about America's poor overall healthcare system were apparently not called for.

The real Domino was a friend of Scott's, who was fascinated that the daughter of celebrated British actor Laurence Harvey wanted to work as an L.A. bounty hunter. Scott has tried to make a film around Domino's persona for about a dozen years, but when a brief window opened in Knightley's schedule, the film became a go. Ah, the joys of having a bankable star.

Working with Knightley is a frankly unnerving range of performers. Any film that finds places for Mickey Rourke, Delroy Lindo, Mo'Nique, Mena Suvari, Macy Gray, Jacqueline Bisset, Dabney Coleman, Lucy Liu and Christopher Walken has got some serious explaining to do.

"Domino" opens with a framing device of the title character in criminal custody and being interviewed by Liu's FBI psychologist about a recent armored car heist that netted $10 million. What did she know and when did she know it? Answering those questions results in two flashback strands: how Domino became a bounty hunter and what happened to all that money.

The first strand is by far the easier to follow, though not necessarily particularly edifying. The death of Domino's celebrated father when she was very young, although apparently not related to America's poor overall healthcare system, was quite a blow. But this is the kind of film that insists that it was the unexpected death of a beloved pet goldfish that changed her life and put her irreversibly on the bounty hunter path.

Domino gets the attention of L.A.'s top bounty professional, Ed Moseby (Mickey Rourke), and his partner Choco (buff Venezuelan Edgar Ramirez) by throwing a knife through their car's windshield. Suitably impressed, the guys take her on because she will add class to their act.

Liking the work because it allows her to "live the nasty and not do time for it," Domino prospers and soon comes to view her partners as family and drinks in the wisdom of Ed, a man who's "been places, done things, lived life." Sample Ed wisdom: "We all get weak over women" and "Love is a battlefield, baby." 'Nuff said!

Working for bail bondsman Claremont Williams III (Delroy Lindo), the team gets enmeshed in that armored car job, which involves so many extraneous elements -- from a grandchild who needs an operation to the California DMV to Jerry Springer, Las Vegas hotel owners, Mafia children, reality TV, psychedelic drugs, "Beverly Hills, 90210," bandits in Halloween masks and a guy who gets his arm shot off -- that it's a wonder that flow chart made it comprehensible. And don't even ask about an allegorical character named Wanderer played by Tom Waits. No, I'm not making this up.

It's a welcome and unexpected dash of reality to see a clip of the real Domino Harvey at the film's conclusion. A much more complicated figure than "Domino" has any intention of portraying, she died in June at age 35 with serious federal drug charges pending against her. Given her wild and crazy streak, she might have loved what Tony Scott has put together, but it's not clear who else will.



MPAA rating: R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual content/nudity and drug use

Times guidelines: Scene of an arm being amputated by gunfire

Released by New Line Cinema. Director Tony Scott. Producers Samuel Hadida, Tony Scott. Screenplay Richard Kelly. Story Richard Kelly and Steve Barancik. Cinematographer Dan Mindel.

Editors William Goldenberg, Christian Wagner. Costumes B. Music Harry Gregson-Williams. Production design Chris Seagers. Art directors Drew Boughton, Keith Neely. Set decorator Nancy Nye. Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes.

In general release.

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