Drama

Retro Streaming: #7 Best Laid Plans (1999) – Two Guys, A Girl and an Average Movie

Synopsis: After his dad dies and he gets screwed out of his inheritance, loser Nick (Alessandro Nivola) finds himself getting deeper and deeper into trouble as he tries to fund his way out of town

My Take

We can all be clear on one thing; this film did not to do well at the box office. When a studio delays your domestic US release date to 4 months after the UK release date and then restricts you to 5 screens for 2 weeks you know you’re in trouble. The thing pretty much sank without a trace and certainly didn’t hit my radar until the randomiser spewed it out this evening. After watching it I am not surprised it never registered with me before now.

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Best Laid Plans felt way more dated than the 1999 release date it got. The tone and style felt very similar to that rash of mid-nineties thrillers that always felt like they were shot through a soft lens, like Malice or Rage. In fact the best way I can describe the whole thing is it was like someone in Hollywood picked up the script earmarked “For TV Movie” and went “we should put this in theatres!”.

The first thing I want to get off my chest is the quality of the copy streaming. I don’t know if the print that was digitized was a poor quality or if the production values were just really shitty but the sound quality was terrible. It sounded like it had been recorded on a PC microphone in a phone box. It made the whole movie feel crappier than it should have been and probably not due to anything the film makers did or failed to do.

The premise of the movie is actually pretty solid and had the potential for some good ideas. Alessandro Nivola is Nick, a smart loser who never lived up to his potential. When his Dad dies all he wants is to collect his inheritance and ride on out of town. His buddy, Bryce (Josh Brolin), gets laid one night and calls Nick to tell him something has gone wrong. On arrival Bryce tells Nick he got laid but the girl (Reese Witherspoon) then said he raped her and threatened to call the Police. Bryce then confesses he has chained her up in the playroom and needs Nick’s help. So far, so interesting. I’ll admit I was interested to know where it was going at this point. And up until about half way through, when the film had twisted and turned a couple of times I was still intrigued. The problem is by the time it got to the end it had twisted and turned so many times I think they forgot where they started and what began as a dark story with a lot of potential kind of fizzled out into a wet fart standard love conquers all story.

It doesn’t help that the cast feels a bit arse about face (an English idiom for any non-Brits reading this). Josh Brolin is an endlessly captivating actor who always tends to rise above bad movies. Here he is wasted as the whiny, moany, arsehole Bryce. I spent most of the movie wanting him to get impaled on Reese Witherspoon’s impossibly pointy chin. Seriously, that thing should be classified as a dangerous weapon. Kids could take their eye out with it. And Nivola is a fine actor, but he is not a leading actor. He’s a great supporting actor. Check out his performance as Pollux Troy in Face/Off. I never once felt sympathy for him and I wanted him to get impaled on Witherspoon’s impossibly pointy chin almost as much as Brolin. And that brings me to what is essentially the central issue with the movie.

Everyone in this movie is a total a-hole with the exception of Witherspoon. She is just kind of pathetic in that she will happily be used in the worst way possible for the benefit of one of the a-holes. There is not one likeable character, which makes it very difficult to give a crap whether they make it out of the other end in one piece, together or alone. Ted Griffin, the principle writer, obviously honed his craft a little more after this as he went on to write two great movies in Ocean’s Eleven and Matchstick Men. But at times it felt like he was writing characters from different movies. The worst being the drug dealer known only as Bad Ass Dude who was a cliched idiosyncratic criminal, wearing shades indoors, drinking from a juice box and spouting awful pseudo-Tarantino dialogue about Adam Smith and the economics of drug dealing.

One bright spot though was the soundtrack and in particular the recurring use of Massive Attack’s Angel. As a piece of music to drum up anticipation and tension there are few others that match it. It’s genius is you can loop the first 8 bars ad infinitum before choosing to  jump forward to the middle 8 to ramp it up. Again though, the areas where Angel is used never matches the rest of the movie in tone.

Conclusion: Feels like a studio coming to the party 3 or 4 years too late with this above average TV movie. First 40 minutes are pretty entertaining but it just tails off rapidly before whimpering out like a bit of a wet fart at the end. Better than it could have been but nowhere near the sum of it’s parts. I am sure none of the leads chalk this one up as a memorable movie on their respective resumes.

Verdict: Watch at your own discretion

About

Taglines: Relationships can be murder (urgh….terrible strapline)

Director: Mike Barker – Brit director who hadn’t done much of note before this. Come to think of it he hasn’t done much of note since either. His short catalogue of work is mediocre. Most recent cinematic effort is 2007 Butterfly On A Wheel with Pierce Brosnan and Gerard Butler.

Writers: Ted Griffin – Is the definition of sporadic with regards to the quality of his movies. Has written some impressive movies with great dialogue, pacing and plot twists (Ocean’s Eleven; Matchstick Men); some mediocre thrillers (Best Laid Plans; Ravenous; and one of the scariest films of recent times 2010 Kathryn Heigl/Ashton Kutcher assassination “comedy” Killers……[shudder].

Cast: Alessandro Nivola, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Terrance Howard

Trivia:

  • This was not a success at the box office by any stretch. Off a $7m budget it opened in the US on 5 (not a typo) screens and took $14k! Ended up taking about $35k in total over two weekends.
  • Unusually it opened 4 months earlier in the UK (May 1999) than in the US (September 1999). Opening across 200 screens and running for 3 weeks it took over £1.5m at the UK box office. Still a flop, but the UK saved it from being an atomic flop at least.

Top TV Connections

  • Rocky Carroll (NCIS, NCIS:LA, Chicago Hope) as “Bad Ass Dude” (actually how he is credited)
  • Mike Hagerty (Friends, Angel, pretty much any TV show you can name since 1995) as “Charlie”

Streaming on LoveFilm/Amazon Prime

Dylan

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