“You can’t change time, time changes you.”
The H-Bomb: When I think of the great filmmakers who emerged from the Golden Age of 70’s cinema, Francis Ford Coppola almost immediately comes to mind, and with good reason. This is the man who in the span of that decade gave us The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now. Those four films alone have earned him his status of being one of the greatest American directors to have ever lived, even if most of his films post-1970’s have been varying degrees of meh. I remember when I first fell in love with his work in the early 00’s, I realized that he was a true visionary (even though you would never know it from watching Jack), and I wished that he would come out of retirement and start working these “personal films” that he kept saying he wanted to make.
Well, after a decade of silence, Coppola the director finally did re-emerge in 2008 with Youth Without Youth, and followed that up with Tetro in 2009. After getting a gander at that cinematic double header… honestly, I wished he stayed in retirement. They weren’t uninteresting, but without really getting into it, they weren’t very good, either. When I caught wind of his latest project, Twixt, described as a horror thriller starring Val Kilmer (oh dear…), my curiosity was piqued, and I was hopeful that Coppola would finally reaffirm his status as a Hollywood legend.
Did he…? No. No he did not. In fact, I would say that of his trio of “comeback” films, Twixt is easily the worst. Now, calling it a “horror thriller” is indeed accurate… if you are willing to excuse the complete absence of horror, thrills, or even a remote sense of tension or suspense. What we get in lieu of all that is confusion, boredom, some of the worst fucking green screen effects you’ll ever see in your life, and Val Kilmer drinking… a lot.
Coppola, who wrote the “screenplay” for this mess, sets his tale in a quirky little town that, as we’re told by Tom Waits’ narration, has a clock tower with seven faces (the relevance of which was lost on me), and is the location where a string of child murders has taken place. Enter our hero, Hall Baltimore (Kilmer, who has morphed into a 250-pound, pony-tailed gorilla), a “bargain basement Stephen King” mystery writer who rolls into town on a book signing tour. Due to a somewhat recent family tragedy, Baltimore drinks more than he writes, and his career is kind of in the toilet. He is in desperate need of a hit, as his wife (Joanne Whalley, Kilmer’s real life ex) is up to her neck in unpaid bills and is threatening to sell his first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass… a possession he understandably cherishes.
Unfortunately for our overfed hero, people aren’t exactly lining up in droves at his book signing, the location of which is, I’ll admit, hilarious. Hall is about to call it a day when he’s approached by Sheriff Bobby LeGrange (Bruce Dern), a rather loopy aspiring writer who refers to himself in the third person… always a sign of crazy. LeGrange wastes no time in sharing the town’s rather morbid history with Baltimore, before inviting him down to the morgue to check out the latest victim of the serial killer. This victim is a 12 or 13-year-old female that nobody in town knew, who was killed by a stake to the heart.
LaGrange, who suspects that the murders are being committed by a gang of emo freaks that hang around the lake outside of town, proposes that he and Baltimore write a book together about the murders, while simultaneously trying to solve them. Initially, Baltimore blows him off, having no intention of hanging around this one horse shithole for any longer than he has to. Then that night, he has a dream, a vivid one in which he meets a young, pale skinned girl named V (Elle Fanning), who leads him to an old abandoned hotel where several children vanished. When Baltimore awakes, he has an epiphany of sorts, that the key to solving the murders and writing his book lies in his dreams. It’s in his sleep where he meets up with the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin), who helps him unlock the secrets of the town’s dark past.
If all that sounds slightly confounding and more than a little stupid to you, then fear not, dear reader, for you are not alone. Coppola claims that the idea for Twixt came from a nightmare he had. If there’s any truth to that, then this film is proof positive that dreams should be shared with a therapist, and a therapist alone, because entertaining cinema this is not. I’ve never been a fan of Coppola’s adaptation of Dracula (Keanu Reeves as Harker… whoa), but goddamn was it better than this dull, disjointed, pretentious hodge-podge that fancies itself a “modern” vampire tale… yes, that’s ultimately what Twixt turns into.
The film’s biggest liability is the screenplay, which is unfocused, illogical, sloppily structured, and so ridiculously convoluted it’s often incomprehensible. Mystery is good, incoherency is bad. It’s obvious that Coppola strove for the former, but only achieved the latter, and by the time it reached its less-than-thrilling resolution, I was so bored and bewildered that I didn’t care in the slightest. Even at a slim 88 minutes, it really fucking dragged and just went on and on for an eternity. It also doesn’t help that he forces a kind of Twin Peaks style of quirkiness into the film, that results in annoying small town stereotypes and some pathetically unfunny attempts at black comedy. Note to Hollywood: Not everyone who lives in a small town is a Goddamn weirdo!
I could use Coppola’s piece of shit script as a punching bag all day, but I also have a nasty bone to pick with some of the film’s technical aspects. First, there’s his use of split screen, which he employs throughout the movie at random, with no discernible purpose. Then there’s the Sin City visual aesthetic he uses for the many dream sequences, with the black and white CGI backdrops… a stylized look that is out of place, and just looks like shit, as if the picture had an effects budget of approximately five bucks. Sorry, but when it’s that obvious that the actors are on a set with nothing more than a giant green screen, it pretty much kills the illusion.
I really wish I could think of something nice to say, but Coppola’s given me jack shit to work with. Normally I could maybe look to the performances, but since Kilmer is looking less like Batman these days and more like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, he was truly painful to look at. It’s fitting that he does a Brando impersonation at one point (from Apocalypse Now, no less), because that’s who he reminded me of… a bloated Brando. That he totally phones in his performance does the film no favors, either.
I started this review with a quote from the film stating that time changes people. Well, I would say time has turned Francis Coppola into a hack (and Val Kilmer into a bonafide fat ass). The story is infuriatingly incoherent and the production values are amateurish at best. I’d hate to see such a legendary filmmaker go out on such a sour note, and I’d love for him to keep making movies, but if Twixt is really the best he can do nowadays, then it’s probably best if he just stays in his winery, squashing grapes, instead.