Facile, frenetic, anti-fascist flop

In 1930s New York, three friends witness a murder, are quickly framed for it, and in their quest for the truth uncover an outrageous secret plot to destroy America. 

This historical dramedy is a good example why in today’s Hollywood, despite focus groups, tie-ins, packaging and all the tricks producers rely on to put butts in seats, the industry remains an iffy area for investment. 

The director is David O. Russell, who has graced us with such memorable movies as Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. The acting is spot-on, the cinematography flawless, and toward the end if offers a timely warning about the last time fascism threatened the USA. It also makes points about veterans’ care and racism. 

And get a load of this sheer star wattage:  In addition to the three central characters (Christian Bale, Margo Robbie  & John David Washington) we have Chris Rock, Alessandro Nivola, Andrea Riseborough, Timothy Olyphant, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Matthias Schoenaerts, Zoe Saldana, Rami Malek,, Anya Taylor-Joy, Robert De Niro, Ed Begley Jr, and even Taylor friggin’ Swift. So if star-spotting is why you go to the movies, this one’s for you. 

So why is it bombing at the box office? That’s the mystery. Despite all these credentials, it somehow just doesn’t, well, work. It collapses under its own noble ambitions, it lacks focus, it’s talky and tonally inconsistent. Simply put, it’s exhausting. (134 min)