Sunday, January 10, 2010

“The Informant!” – A gross misuse of an exclamation point.

Another Steven Soderbergh film, another movie about conning/stealing millions of dollars. I’m a big fan of Matt Damon and I enjoyed “Ocean’s Eleven,” but this film was a disappointment. It wasn’t a bad movie, just incredibly…boring. I guess it’s partly my fault, in that I thought it was an original story. I didn’t know that it was based on a true story about a very boring topic: corporate price fixing. The only thing missing from this film was Ben Stein doing roll call.

Another red flag was that it was advertised as a dark comedy. That’s Hollywood code for “Shit! We forgot to include anything even remotely funny.” That’s how they categorized movies like “Grosse Point Blank,” “The Big Lebowski,” and “Death to Smoochie.” In other words, movies that are only funny if you are smoking a lot of drugs or really (really) drunk.

Damon plays Mark Whitacre, an executive at an agricultural company called ADM. Shortly after we meet him, we find out that he is dealing with a virus that is slowing the production of their main product, Lysine. Whitacre proceeds to narrate to the audience on all of the uses of Lysine. This narration is mostly banal, but we eventually realize there is a point to it. It’s also the only thing that comes close to delivering laughs, but only because some of things he talks about are so random that chuckling is the only reaction that doesn’t seem strange.

When Whitacre can’t solve the problem, he decides to lie to his boss, telling him that a Japanese company has a cure and will sell it to them for $10 million. His boss calls the FBI, forcing Whitacre to pile on the lie with more lies. He also tells his wife that the corporation is involved in price fixing of Lysine, which we’re not sure is true at this point. She urges him to come clean with the FBI, so he tells them about the price fixing and agrees to gather evidence by recording conversations and meetings for them.

Warning: I’m about to spoil this movie for you, especially since you have definitely not heard the true story this movie was based on. If you have, you really need to get out more.

Anyway, the rest of the film is Whitacre telling one lie after another, though he was telling the truth about the price fixing scandal. What eventually comes to light is that he was also embezzling money from the company and ends up serving more jail time than the company executives. We also find out that he is bipolar, which supposedly explains all of the lies, as well as his constant random narration/conversation with himself throughout the movie. I thought hearing voices in your head was schizophrenia, not bipolar disorder, but I guess that’s just a small detail that the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered with.

Other than the fact that the movie is dull, my real complaint isn’t really about the film. I’ve complained time and time again about previews ruining movies, but this didn’t ruin by showing too much. It ruined it by deceiving us with what it was about. Maybe I just missed it (pshaw), but I don’t recall any of the previews mentioning anything about this being based on a true story. Hell, it was practically non-fiction, considering the filmmakers had access to the actual Mark Whitacre if they wanted it. But the previews made it seem like a fictional story about a bumbling fool helping the FBI. The only true part of that depiction was the part about helping the FBI. Add in the Lysine price fixing fact and you’ve got the exact opposite of Soderbergh’s other real-life movie, “Erin Brokovich.” I couldn’t have been more disappointed if someone had stolen my popcorn.

Rating: Not even worth a matinee, but not the worst movie out there right now. Ask for all but $1.83 back. See? You can be random too.

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