No Such Thing Review

Apr 04, 2002 | 12:24pm EST

A U.S. news crew on location tracking a story about an Icelandic monster falls victim to the beast. Back in New York Beatrice--a young reporter for the news program--is intent upon advancing the story by traveling to Iceland. Over the initial objections of her demanding and competitive female editor she begins her investigative journey. It is hardly auspicious (her plane crashes into the ocean) but it is not hopeless: Beatrice is the one passenger who survives. After being cared for by some attentive doctors she again makes her way to Iceland. Finally there she encounters some scruffy natives the kindly Dr. Anna and the monster himself with whom she bonds. Besides creating problems the monster has his own to deal with: because he is so tormented he drinks way too much but cannot escape from his misery and die. Beatrice sympathetic to his plight brings him to the States for medical care. But there's a media frenzy with journalists and monster alike behaving badly.

Writer/director Hal Hartley corralled some of the best actresses working in film: Sarah Polley as Beatrice the young heroine; Helen Mirren as her manic editor; and Julie Christie as Dr. Anna. All are a delight to watch because of who they are not because of who they play. British vet Mirren must be singled out for her good American accent and the iconic Christie deserves praise for apparently being able to handle any role with grace. Robert Burke often amuses as the monster thanks largely to his icky makeup and contemporary attitude. But beware of films in which monsters amuse.

Almost like his monster prolific indie director/writer Hal Hartley cannot be stopped. Also guilty as writer Hartley delivers nearly two hours of barely watchable celluloid that fails to register beyond the haunting Icelandic scenery the occasional droll goofiness of the monster and the mean digs of the vixen editor. Hartley does deliver some lively pacing but it's not fast enough. His fine actors do what they can with their roles and condolences are in order. But Hartley's mish-mash of tone (Are we supposed to laugh or cringe?) and off-target witless humor (Is this social satire? Farce? Black humor?) frustrate.

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