"Break" contains all the elements you'd expect from a hard-boiled Quentin Tarantino knockoff: the complicated hit men, the fetishes, the blood baths, not to mention the presence of Michael Madsen and David Carradine.
There are enough small touches to sporadically hold your interest through the scant running time of this flashback-laden thriller, which manages to include a folkie chanteuse, a little person on a leash and a bodyguard named Haiku (Matthew Jones) who -- you guessed it -- speaks only in 5-7-5-syllable verse form.
The bare-bones plot revolves around a dying crime boss (Chad Everett) who hires favorite assassin Frank (Frank Krueger) to murder him and the Woman (Sarah Thompson) he loves. Frank is the only character sporting an actual name (in addition to the Woman, there's the Associate, the Bishop and the China Man, among many others) and he also owns a secret that will complicate his latest assignment.
Just as it isn't difficult to guess the particulars of Frank's past, it's not too hard to figure out exactly where "Break" is heading. Nor is it all that interesting, thanks to Krueger's bland blankness in the lead role. Writer-director Marc Clebanoff does sneak in the occasional change-up, shifting the movie from noir to kung-fu slapstick, demonstrating, I suppose, that he has seen the "Kill Bill" movies as well as "Reservoir Dogs."
To which Haiku might say:
Mr. Blond now Gray
Tarantino a shadow
He has my number
Glenn Whipp --
"Break." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.
An armchair tour of one man's mind
In filmmaker Daniel Burman's psychoanalytical comedy-drama "Empty Nest," a celebrated middle-aged Argentine playwright (Oscar Martinez) takes to his beloved armchair after an exasperating dinner party and a fight with his wife, Martha (Cecilia Roth), only to embark on a quasi-surreal version of his life that makes his greatest fears and desires more palpable than anything else.
Mixed in with Leonardo's escalating preoccupations -- his wife and grown children drifting from him, writer's ennui, a sexy orthodontist -- are moments of surreality: flying toy planes with his daughter, an ever-present neurologist commenting on his situation, even a musical sequence with a marching band. Burman may not be Fellini but he has an enjoyably frisky eye for comic detail and never takes his protagonist's dilemma so seriously that we lose the playfulness of his mind-over-memory construct.
The winning performances from Martinez and Roth, and a percussively bumpy, jazzy score, help in that regard. But in the end, it all can't help feeling a little slight, more a pleasant wade into a writer's neurotic playground than a satisfyingly deep dip.
Robert Abele --
"Empty Nest." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; Laemmle Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 981-9811.
Crime trumps its human potential
Less is famously said to be more, but sometimes it's simply not enough. That's the case with writer-director Josh Evans' "Everybody Dies." Evans' first two films, "Inside the Goldmine" (1994) and "Glam" (1997), were harrowingly personal and at the same time engaging, but "The Price of Air" (2000) ventured from a strong core relationship to a conventional crime plot. "Everybody Dies" is so minimalist that it barely exists in any aspect.
Sergio D'Amato's Jake is a lean, craggy, raspy-voiced hit man hired to eliminate Charis Michelsen's Nina, a tough-chick type, who says she went to a Hollywood motel to give a guy a massage and ended up killing him in self-defense. Whoever the dead man was, his cohorts want Nina rubbed out. However, mutual attraction sparks between the moody Jake and the sullen Nina, and they swiftly end up on the run. They and those they encounter are so relentlessly obscure that the film offers little reason to even watch it play out.
Kevin Thomas --
"Everybody Dies." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 16 minutes. At the Regency Fairfax Theater, 7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-4010.
Heady thoughts, eye-candy venues
It won't be everybody's idea of entertainment but the heady documentary "Examined Life" provides a sound forum for an influential cross-section of professional thinkers to theorize on such weighty topics as life and death, politics, the environment and disabilities. Director-writer Astra Taylor wisely avoids turning this talk fest into a talking heads fest by filming these effusive intellectuals in a variety of visually diverting, real-world environments. So, when such high-minded matters as cosmopolitanism, social contracting and conspicuous consumption become too ponderous, you can zone out to the bustle of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue and Times Square, the beauty of Chicago's Lakeshore Drive or the bohemian vibrancy of San Francisco's Mission District.