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Under Review: ‘Stone’

— by MARIUSZ ZUBROWSKI —

Let’s face it; your boss is probably a jerk. But instead of complaining about it over some tea and crumpets, do something about it – viva la revolution! Now you could steal a page from any of our ancient ancestors and kill him or you could just blackmail him. Think about it, you find the scoop about some dirty laundry, threaten to expose it, and the balance of power is in your favor. But you say that you’ve already tried the aforementioned steps? Oh I see. You’re in prison and in real trouble with your parole officer who dangles freedom in front of your eyes. Well, have no fear because I’m here to help, and if you’re questioning my professional integrity then no worries, because one of my former clientele, Mr. Stone, has his very own film!

The eponymous “Stone,” which is directed by John Curran, who also helmed “The Painted Veil” and “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” and penned by Angus MacLachlan (also wrote the screenplay for “Junebug”), stars the talented Edward Norton (“The Incredible Hulk,” “The Italian Job,” “Fight Club,” and “American History X” to name a few) as a convicted arsonist who uses his beautiful wife, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich of “The Fourth Kind,” the “Resident Evil” series, and “Ultraviolet” fame), as a sex object in order to manipulate his apathetic parole officer, Jack, who is played by the extremely prolific Robert De Niro (“Goodfellas,” “Taxi Driver,” “Casino,” and “The Godfather: Part II”). These three performances do somewhat compliment each-other, although, De Niro has lost spunk throughout the years and is now almost comparable to the cheap-man’s Michael Caine: his job in “Stone” is passable, but what-ever happened to the Travis Bickle/James ‘Jimmy’ Conway/Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein that we all used to know and love? He seems to have faded into obscurity. Even Norton is a bit amateurish in his role as Stone, the cold and calculating inmate who claims to have “changed” in his years in the joint. However, when you see two talented actors together, it creates an illusion of sorts – we expect the best, so our expectations trick us into thinking a performance was incredible when it really wasn’t; this is where the undeniably attractive yet ultimately untalented Jovovich comes into play. It was her typical “Milla-esque” performance that magnified the horrors of Norton and De Niro because as an audience-member you think “wait, a minute, these two veterans are doing just as poor a job as Jovovich, and oh man, is her performance sloppy.”

Not to make it seem like I’m unfairly attacking any of three performers because for better or for worse, I do respect the fact that they’ve made a name for themselves in this cutthroat business, and in all honestly, the trio had a lot of dead weight to carry, of all which is placed on by a mediocre screenplay. First of all, it’s hard to even care if Stone acquires his dream of parole, or to cheer for Jack’s retirement. In addition, the female characters are mismanaged and both Lucetta and Madylyn (Frances Conroy), Jack’s wife who stays with him even when he threatened to throw their baby out of the window, are just plain bland.

Additionally, MacLachlan treats his audience like a bunch of idiots, constantly deploying in-your-face symbolism and blatant religious undertones: made evident by a radio talk-show that Jack listens to, which spews incoherent evangelistic speeches that are meant to be signify Jack’s spiritual journey, but which are just annoyed when played on an endlessly loop. MacLachlan tries too hard to be provocative and socially conscious and the result is a screenplay that never fully delivers. In addition, John Curran’s direction is equally pseudo-Scorsese and lacks any sort of dramatic tension or energy.

But before I become the center of some widespread controversy for promoting illegal activities, let me just say that blackmail (or murder) is the not the way to do things. Just look at “Stone” . . . you don’t want a crappy movie made about you, do ya?

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Follow Mariusz Zubrowski on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ItsJustMariusz.

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