The pattern is familiar, ancient, always dispiriting: A director with a vivid voice and a new way of seeing things breaks through, big time. Then they send in the clones.
In this case, the director is Quentin Tarantino, of "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction," and the clone is Roger Roberts Avary, a buddy of his who co-wrote the first two and on the strength of Tarantino's recommendation has been allowed to make "Killing Zoe," with Tarantino as executive producer. The two met in that now famous font of movie culture, a Manhattan Beach, Calif., video shop, where they were both clerks.
So "Killing Zoe" is imitation Tarantino, as aided, assisted and abetted by Tarantino, whose name is listed on the credits more prominently than Avary's: lots of attitude, lots of clever but infantile nihilism and bravado existentialism, lots of mega- violence and cynicism and very little sense.
To the many people who hated "Pulp Fiction," including the guy who demanded that I be fired, the lady who couldn't believe I could like it and "The Shawshank Redemption," and the poor soul who informed me that movies have to be happy as they are for entertainment ONLY (her caps, not mine), I say: dear ladies and gentleman, do not go see "Killing Zoe."
The best that can be said of it is that it is certainly diverting. The film begins with wan little Eric Stoltz showing up zonked and exhausted in Paris and checking into a hotel with a mysterious bag of equipment. Soon enough he's entertaining a pretty young prostitute (Julie Delpy) and they're making smart Generation X banter that would have been smarter if Quentin Tarantino had written it. The cutest touch: Her name is Zoe and his is Zed. They make beautiful ZZZZZZ's together. That's Act I.
In Act II, Zed's pal Eric (Jean-Hugues Anglade) shows up, an unkempt, rude and violent young Frenchman who promptly kicks Zoe out. It turns out in no little time that he is a professional bank robber and he has imported Zed to crack a safe. He takes Zed to his gang headquarters, where the other members soon reveal themselves to be a sorry lot of drug addicts and morons. The "plan" for the job is discussed, and even we idiots in the audience can see that it's not much of a plan.
Act III is the robbery itself, which, like the robbery in "Reservoir Dogs," is a complete catastrophe, but unlike the robbery in "Reservoir Dogs" is at least dramatized. Of course, it turns out that Zoe is one of the bank clerks by day, and Eric takes a special dislike to her. Would there be a movie if it were otherwise?
And how can we tell he dislikes her? Because he torments her for a while, while he merely kills some other citizens without the torment. Meanwhile, down below, Zed putters away with his safe. Meanwhile, outside, a police SWAT team gathers.
"Killing Zoe" lacks the incisiveness, the tightly controlled irony, and the blank verse power in the profane dialogue that enabled "Reservoir Dogs" to transcend its admittedly horrific violence. "Zoe" isn't without amusement, if you like to see people shot in the head, but it has the feel of a work that simply would not exist if "Reservoir Dogs" didn't already. So what's the point? If you gave me a year or two, I could probably figure it out.
Starring Eric Stoltz and Julie Delpy
Directed by Roger Roberts Avary
Released by October Films
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