Jessica Biel plays London a beautiful Manhattanite moving to Los Angeles. We don’t know much about her other than that her ex-boyfriend the self-loathing Syd (Chris Evans Biel’s real-life boyfriend) is really hung up on London. Syd meets a cocaine dealer Bateman (Jason Statham) for a score and invites him along to crash London’s going-away party. Syd and Bateman hole up snorting cocaine in an upstairs bathroom all night. Syd’s self-appointed goal is to confront London one final time though he’s uninvited and zonked on drugs. London is officially Biel’s movie though she is absent from the lengthy pivotal cocaine scenes. Her presence is mostly symbolic that of the love object who’s driving Evans crazy. Biel is a charismatic onscreen sparkler who has strong convictions even if they’re a little unclear. And for your information that’s not Jessica Biel’s naked body--it’s a double. Evans best known as the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch plays against type in London as a lost drug-abusing bearded 21-year-old man/boy. The actor has many pages of dialogue and uses them to show his brooding bad-boy acting a surprising departure from the limited fluff he’s been offered of late. Statham nearly steals the show as the mild-mannered quiet coke dealer. He remains a mystery brewing with sub-surface intensity. Get Rich or Die Tryin’s Joy Bryant is given the ugly treatment with bad hair and make-up. As a onetime model with few acting credits Bryant shows natural ability. Comic Dane Cook pops up as a party guest charming the presumably single London. First-time director Hunter Richards is actually more of a writer but inveterate casting director (and London producer) Bonnie Timmerman encouraged Richards to direct the indie film. Half of it takes place in a bathroom á la Saw but with cocaine instead of weapons and Richards lapses occasionally into melodrama or relies on gimmicky title-card shots. Overall some might condemn London as a matter of taste for its nihilistic griminess. But there is an awful lot to like about the film especially its use of house music provided by DJ’s extraordinaire Crystal Method. The up-close examination of its scoundrel characters is real as a fast paced hybrid of Spun and Igby Goes Down. London should be good for a late Friday or Saturday night date finding a niche DVD audience among older teens and young adults.
Monster chronicles a year in the life of one Aileen Wournos for whom the description "downtrodden" is an understatement of the 'nth degree. Wournos is infamous for being the first recognized female serial killer in recent U.S. history and was executed in 2002 for killing seven men between 1989-90 (self-defense she said). Unwanted unloved and largely abandoned by her family in her early teens Wournos became a drifter turning to prostitution along Florida's highways first for acceptance then for sustenance. As this movie tells it with a lifelong history of receiving only abuse and contempt at the hands of nearly every male with whom she came into contact it's clear the very least little thing could push her already unstable mental state right over the edge. That little thing came in the form of one Selby Wall. Wall (a lesbian) comes on to Wournos (not one) at a bar one night with a few kind words: "You're so beautiful you must have men falling all over you " at which point you wonder what planet she's on. An awkwardly fumbling sex scene or two later and off they go on a bizarrely codependent road to ruin that takes them on the run--Wall from her conservative family Wournos from the law as she discovers after one particularly brutal encounter that killing men for their money is quicker easier safer and more profitable than screwing them for it.
Much is being made about Charlize Theron's transformation into Wournos and with good reason. To say she looks like a cross between Jon Voight and William H. Macy is being too hard--on the guys. With her baby blues turned into bottomless brown pools; baby face into pocked sagging jowls; even white teeth into grayish tombstones; and flaxen bob into dishwater blonde '70s-era feathered crop Theron so wholly transforms from bombshell Hollywood star to white-trash hooker it's a more frightening sight than Paris Hilton's night-vision humpathon. Well OK not that frightening. It isn't just Theron's looks that are Wournos from head to toe however; it's as if Theron was channeling the killer her performance (barring a few instances of exaggeration) is that eerie. On some level you're always conscious you're watching Charlize Theron model-turned-actress underneath all the makeup and one wonders if the entire film would have worked better starring a complete unknown . But by the time the credits roll even if you've never heard of or seen Wournos before you'll feel like you knew her personally after watching Theron swagger cuss fight and kill her way through the Sunshine State. In a weird yet rewarding casting choice Christina Ricci effortlessly embraces her role as the lonely and innocent yet ultimately whiny and manipulative galpal Wall.
Had Theron's performance and ungodly appearance not packed such a wallop this movie about a year in the life of a serial killer could have come and gone--truth be told it's an unredeeming look at the tragic end of a completely wasted life from the viewpoint of the loser who wasted it. From the victimizing encounters Wournos has with almost every male she runs across to the calculating machinations of her treacherous girlfriend director Patty Jenkins practically screams "Poor me!" for Wournos from the grave. Though the movie's title refers to the main character it might as well apply to everyone else as the killer comes off more sympathetic than most of her hapless victims who didn't deserve to die just for picking her up on the highway. Opinions about cause and effect aside the moviemaking itself is not up to par. Very little is given to explain Wournos' character other than a few flashback scenes that seem more cursory than anything and are punctuated with a distracting voiceover that tries to replace missing pieces of story--such as why for chrissakes Selby is so attracted to Aileen. For a movie in which the lesbian factor is so important Jenkins ultimately lacks the courage to "go there " pulling back on the whole sex thing and spending far too much time on a weak love story that never really makes much sense.