Jim Carrey as an aged Polish police detective taking one last crack at the sex club murder case no one else could solve?
This indifferent, exploitive mystery, filmed in 2015, is a Kafkaesque nightmare painted in the grim greys and dull browns, the historic “look” of Eastern Europe, even after the Iron Curtain rusted out.
Carrey is Tardek, a loner, on-the-OCD-spectrum cop meant to “keep his head down” in his final year on the job. Some scandal robbed him of his reputation. And working in the non-digitized unsolved cases stacks of the onetime police state, he conjures up one that has haunted him.
A famous — or infamous — man was murdered. He frequented this Euro-dungeon sex club, “The Cage,” and then his body was found trussed up, dumped in a river.
The prime suspect? That would be the famous — or infamous — author Kozlow, played with all the furrowed brow, testy-talking menace that Marton Csokas can summon to his latest villainous turn.
With little to no help from his assistant (Piotr Glowacki), Tardek digs. A break comes from the novelist’s “last novel,” never published but rendered into audio book form (When has that ever happened?) so that Tardek can listen to its vivid descriptions of sex club antics that would force your “Eyes Wide Shut.” Depravity and degradation we’ve seen under the opening credits, later glimpsed in old VHS tapes of the goings on in The Cage, is related by Kozlow with a perverse, profane relish.
And damned if much of what turns up in the novel is straight out of the non-public portions of the case files of this one notorious unsolved murder.
“I think this book is your confession,” Tardek accuses.
“That’s what YOU say,” the author spits back.
“That’s what YOU say,” Tardek grins, pointing at the tape recorder with Kozlow’s own voice coming out of it.
“That’s what I WRITE.”
Charlotte Gainsbourg is the mysterious single mom, haggard and wounded (Gainsbourg’s speciality) whom Kozlow meets, supposedly in secret. What’s she know? What does she have to do with all this?
Greek director Alexandros Avranas (“Miss Violence,” “Without”) loses himself in the glorious production design of this overcast but never-thrilling, not-that-mysterious mystery thriller. Check out the dusty bust of Lenin in this scene, the moldy odor of retarded progress, decay, hanging over every life.
Carrey paves the way for a cast that plays the barest hint of an Eastern European accent, bearded, sullen, curious, “the last honest cop in Poland” who breaks in to plant microphones, jump the gun on arrests and faces media heat from his confrontations with a writer who knows how to use words to win the PR war with accusing cops.
Jeremy Brock’s screenplay — he scripted “Mrs. Brown” and “The Last King of Scotland” — introduces Tardek’s obsession with silence and OCD approach to grooming, and the way he re-arranges the eggs and bacon on his breakfast plate, the daily trimming of his beard. But little else is done with this character “flaw.” He has a wife and child, and they barely figure in any of this.
Carrey doesn’t deliver any sizzle in this role. Csokas chews him right out of their scenes, and the always soulful Gainsbourg (“Nymphomaniac,” “Antichrist”) lets us think we’re looking right into her horrific past, even if this dull, obvious “mystery” doesn’t seem worthy of any of their talents.
It’s worth pointing out how this entire enterprise is not a good look for any actor in the #MeToo era. Especially one with Carrey’s PR situation after the suicide of his ex-girlfriend. The film’s exploitive nature with degrading crimes against women, luridly detailed on those VHS tapes, would give any sensitive actor pause. The fact that the film probably wouldn’t have been financed without Carrey in the cast is a last piece of “Not a good look.”
Gainsbourg doesn’t get off the hook, either. Whatever merits the script had, whatever role her character has in the plot, she’s never been shy at playing “exploited.” And Avranas is no Las Von Trier.
Actors can never know how well a project they dive into will turn out, and taking on a project with this screenwriter and these fellow cast members might have felt safe. But the subject matter and the way it would be played for titillation had to be obvious, fairly early on.
MPAA Rating: R for strong and disturbing violent/sexual content including rape, graphic nudity, and language
Cast: Jim Carrey, Marton Csokas, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Credits:Directed by Alexandros Avranas, script by Jeremy Brock. A Saban Films release.
Running time: 1:37