Thursday, March 31, 2011

Panic (2000) [R] ****

A film review by Mick LaSalle, for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Panic is the movie equivalent of a great read at the beach. It's about a guy having a midlife crisis, except that he's not a regular guy but a hit man. And not just a hit man but a corporate hit man, which means he dresses better. He also has serious issues with his father, and his marriage is a mess, and he's attracted to a woman half his age...

Panic will inspire two types of reactions. People who go to movies just so they can walk out complaining, But that wasn't realistic! will be made apoplectic by this film's unlikely turns. Others, who have a taste for the dramatic, the absurd and the exaggerated, will find themselves on the movie's wavelength.

William H. Macy stars -- that always helps -- as Alex, a man in his 40s who is beginning to have moral qualms about walking up to strangers and shooting them. Maybe it's just a phase, but he's depressed, so he goes to a psychiatrist (John Ritter).

He meets a young woman, played by Neve Campbell, in the waiting room. In his own low-key way, he falls immediately in love with her. Strange enough. She falls in love with him. That's not just strange -- that's science fiction.

But the award for strangest in Panic goes to Donald Sutherland, who reaches the apotheosis of his corporate sleaze roles as Alex's dad. Dad started the killing business and trained Alex in it from an early age by having the boy shoot squirrels. Ah, those cozy walks in the woods with Father! Now he gives Alex a new assignment. He tells him to kill his psychiatrist.

Writer-director Henry Bromell makes good use of Sutherland's remarkably unreassuring smile and gives him a handful of scenes in which he gets to act like a sadistic wacko. Fun stuff.

Panic is not the kind of movie anyone will remember at Oscar time. But no one who sees it will forget it.

This film contains strong language and violence. -- Mick LaSalle

Labels: comedy, crime, drama, thriller

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