Sunday, May 10, 2009

WHILE SHE WAS OUT (2008) d. Susan Montford

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

One of the saddest and most discouraging experiences is that of watching an actor/actress in the midst of career decline. Kim Basinger has been the centerpiece of many films that I have enjoyed over a long life of watching movies. She was so fresh, young and vulnerable in KATIE: PORTRAIT OF A CENTERFOLD (1978). In THE NATURAL(1984), she played a part that was both likable and horrifically repellant, while in 9 ½ WEEKS (1986) she sizzled in a way I wasn’t sure she be able to attain and yet after that flick, I was never able to look at her as the cute “girl next door” ever again. Even though her character wasn’t the strength of BATMAN (1989), I loved that film and still do, just as I have come to respect the film NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983) and her performance therein. Finally, there is Ms. Basinger’s opus LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997), which is likely to have been the critical peak of her career. Times have been somewhat tough for this enigmatic actress over the past decade with her much publicized tribulations with former husband Alec Baldwin, but even more trying has been her run of unimpressive cinematic efforts. Sadly, WHILE SHE WAS OUT has to be added to her growing list of disappointments. It is a movie with a few technical strengths and one moment of surprising but brief screenplay courage, but most of the rest of its runtime was horrendously substandard.

WHILE SHE WAS OUT is the story of an affluent, suburban housewife named Della who is chained to an overbearing and abusive husband in a loveless marriage. After receiving her usual salvo of nightly mistreatment, Della retreats to the mall for some last minute Christmas shopping, only to have a series of escalating and exasperating occurrences increase her aggravation. By the time she departs her consumer sanctuary, Della’s troubles have been magnified several fold as she incurs the ire of a gang of thugs bent on visiting all kinds of savagery upon her. Della is forced to call forth her own deeply seeded ferocity and emotional toughness to outlast and then dispatch her tormentors and finally make it home before Santa arrives.

I went into WHILE SHE WAS OUT deeply suspicious of its quality for a variety of reasons. I had seen the trailer on another Anchor Bay disc and found the content to be wanting. In addition, when I scanned the TV Spots and trailer in the extras before putting in the DVD as is my usual behavior, I suddenly realized that this film once had been in theaters due to its TV Spots and clearly did not receive much of a release when it came out in December of 2008. When a film comes and goes so silently without leaving so much as a ripple, that is not a good thing. Sadly, my premonitions were born out. To be fair, WHILE SHE WAS OUT does have a few praiseworthy qualities. It was competently shot and lit so that I was able to see all of the action and all of the set locations, as well as the actors. I can’t say that for many films today, whose directors have no idea how to shoot and light a film, DEATHRACE for instance, and that was a film where I WANTED to see what was going on. The acting was passable and while that is not a ringing endorsement, it should be viewed as such, for there is A LOT of bad acting out there today and it is a plague that can derail a film instantaneously. The sets and locations were simple but effective and were utilized efficiently to create a small budget look and feel that could have worked. When you look past these esoteric strengths though and delve into the core of what makes a movie, WHILE SHE WAS OUT is laced with troubles innumerable.

Many of the screenplay elements of WHILE SHE WAS OUT were often illogical, more commonly absurd and too often they were absolutely ludicrous. Let us start with the introductory segments of a film that focus on Kim Basinger’s character and her shopping needs. I found it tedious at best to watch Ms. Basinger stroll through the mall on a consuming spree, both a place and an avocation I HATE, during Christmas, a time I avoid shopping like walking over thin ice, and listlessly fingering her way through products that so many wasteful denizens of suburbia feel they “must have” to survive. As a result of this dreadful story writing mistake, I found it VERY difficult to muster any sympathy for Della, despite the reasonable logic of abuse being present as a plot device. It didn’t help that Della’s husband was not well developed and his monstrous nature seemed terribly forced. From there, things went downhill rapidly, due to the fact that the “thugs” Della faced were even more contrived. It was immediately apparent that a “Rainbow Coalition” of ethnicities had been cobbled together to give appropriate representation for each member of the gang. Next, the miscreants were a bunch of weepy, wimpy and whiny second-guessers who were ridiculously silly on occasion, miserably ineffective in polishing off Ms. Basinger in other instances and thoroughly unthreatening at all times. Lukas Haas plays the part of the ring-leader Chucky, and his bright, infectious smile and deep brown eyes make him look more like the kind-hearted outsider than a cruel psychopath. To make matters worse, the pacing of this film was unsuccessfully engineered. I will always applaud any movie that can modulate the action and plot/character development stretches so that a mostly gentle and yet occasionally sharp undulating cadence is created. In WHILE SHE WAS OUT, the plot pace peaks and valleys were so intense as to almost induce nausea. The action speeds up appropriately but then comes to a screeching halt for long and monotonous periods of time but without the payoff of learning more about the characters or seeing some dramatic interplay between cast members. The one and only exception to this occurred in the last one-fourth of the narrative when Della and Chucky seemed ready to put aside their antagonisms to form a dark-hearted alliance. At this point, my eyebrows arched, my pulse quickened and I prayed this film would take The Road Less Traveled and the two characters would end up like a warped version of “Bonnie & Clyde” or even a bizarre “Thelma & Louise” (or Louis in this case), but it was not to be. Despite my joy at the hard left turn WHILE SHE WAS OUT seemed ready to take, I was unsurprised by its lack of courage and slavish adherence to a predictable formula. Predictability was another one of the many sins this movie committed. Too often I could see what was coming miles away and that deepened my intense dislike for what WHILE SHE WAS OUT was trying NOT to achieve. Had WHILE SHE WAS OUT gone for broke in its last acts and really tried to be something other than “one sad woman’s act of defiance against male aggression” I would have possibly found reason to like it.

WHILE SHE WAS OUT has a small but reasonably enjoyable extras menu. In addition to the afore mentioned two TV Spots and theatrical trailer, there is an audio commentary with director/writer Susan Montford and producer Don Murphy and the thoughts expressed in the commentary are worth hearing. There is also a 26 minute “Making of WHILE SHE WAS OUT” that was a bit generic and too heavily slathered with film clips, but all the principle cast and crew members are a part of the interviews and their anecdotes, while unspectacular, do give one a look into the soul of this film. As is always the case, I tend to think a little better of any DVD that has bonus features of any type and after watching these supplements, my indignation towards WHILE SHE WAS OUT was diminished ever so slightly.

I grieve for the waning of Kim Basinger’s career, but sadly, such falls have happened before and will happen again. It can be hoped that sometime in the future, lightning will strike and her fortunes will be reversed. Such could not happen in the company of WHILE SHE WAS OUT, which is the antithesis of spontaneously energetic emission. WHILE SHE WAS OUT was a little more like The Void which devours all light and matter, but that may be overstating things a bit. In the end, WHILE SHE WAS OUT has almost nothing to distinguish it from so many other flicks that it is like and as a result, it will probably sink into obscurity where it belongs, but unhappily it will take a little piece of Ms. Basinger with it and for that I will mourn.

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