Movie Review: Neil Goes Noir — “Out of the Blue”

Writer-director Neil LaBute makes a mockery of film noir in his new thriller “Out of the Blue.” It’s a lampoon of the classic femme fatale stories that define the genre — from “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice” to this film’s closest antecedent, “Body Heat.”

The filmmaker who has dabbled in and sent-up misogyny (“In the Company of Men”) and racism (“Lakeview Terrace”) goes glib and tacky with a story of Rhode Island wrongdoing set in motion by an unhappily married, abused rich woman played by Diane Kruger.

The sex scenes have a wacky unreality about them — in a reading room at a library, on a rock in a park. There are dozens of pointless time inter-titles — “Three Days Later,” “The Next Wednesday” — waving a red flag over all of this.

“I’m not being serious, folks!”

And he cast Jack Nicholson’s kid as the “Postman” sap, the ex-con lured by a sexy older woman into a situation we see coming a mile off, which LaBute doesn’t even try to make realistic because the genre is, on its face, kind of laughable. To him, I guess.

Ray Nicholson is the fitness freak Connor, a librarian in Twin Oaks, Rhode Island. Kruger is the blonde he sees walking out of the sea after a morning swim. He is goofily enamored. She is guarded and coy.

“Fortune favors the bold,” she scolds him after a near flirtation.

When she drops by the library later, in sunglasses hiding a black eye, he is hooked.

But Connor isn’t just some naive, mild-mannered librarian. We figure that out when we meet his abrasive, bullying probation officer (Hank Azaria, terrific). The guy plainly isn’t interested in helping his parolee settle into a new life and forget the past. He wears a windbreaker with PROBATION in large, alarming letters emblazoned on the back. In public.

Do such jackets even exist?

The probie creates scenes and humiliates Connor because he can. And Connor, smitten by the lonely, battered and rich stepmother and her plight, pursued by the pretty and more age-appropriate librarian Kim (Gia Crovatin), replaces the secret his probie won’t let him keep with a bigger one. He begins a (somewhat) torrid affair.

LaBute is messing with us, first scene to last, with his obvious foreshadowing, the way Connor steers Kruger’s Marilyn to “The Postman Always Rings Twice” on the library’s shelves, his mention of the town’s name, “Twin Oaks, the name of the cafe” in the novel and movies made from it.

As to Marilyn’s “problem?”

“Maybe I can be the solution.”

The general idea here is a sound one, taking the conventions of a celebrated genre and sending them up. But LaBute’s incessant grasping for laughs out of “The Next Tuesday” and “Sometime After That” titles is instantly cloying.

Kruger plays Marilyn straight down the middle — a little Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity,” an attempt at Lange sensuality in the Nicholson/Jessica Lange version of “Postman,” a smidgen of Kathleen Turner in “Body Heat.” She’s adequate in the part, which is inadequate for the movie as Nicholson-the-Younger is out of his depth here, not really giving us much to hang onto.

Connor needs to be gullible but dangerous, his naivete and passion something we connect with, his secrets sinister. Nicholson gives us a couple of notes, not the full sonata. Without reading his bio beforehand, I didn’t make the resemblance connection and kept wondering “Who IS this guy and why’d LaBute entrust him with his movie?”

But the film’s bigger flaws are all on the director who cast him, a filmmaker who keeps trying to have his noir and mock it, too.

Rating:  R for sexual content, language and some violence.

Cast: Diane Kruger, Ray Nicholson, Gia Crovatin, Chase Sui Wonders and Hank Azaria.

Scripted and directed by Neil LaBute. A Quiver release.

Running time: 1:44

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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