Let’s try something different, shall we?
For far too long, Cinapse’s “Pick Of The Week” has been ruled by the tyranny of quality films. Cult classics, actual classics, movies with a special meaning to the writer, misunderstood gems deserving of a closer look.
But what if someone wanted to do something else entirely?
What if we chose something awful?
So many bad movies come and go, fading into oblivion without so much as a by your leave. They’re a go-to punchline for a couple of months, then the next one comes along, and the previous stinker fades into obscurity.
This, in essence, is how bad movies keep happening: we, as a people, continually refuse to learn anything from them.
But just this once, what if we actually took a look at one of these forgotten failures? What might we learn from breaking down one of them years after the joke has slipped into the mists of time and seeing where things went wrong?
But screw it; let’s do this anyway…
I KNOW WHO KILLED ME
If ever there was a story of “fait accompli” shockingly avoided, it’s the continued survival of Lindsay Dee Lohan. It’s not difficult to imagine that from 2004-2013 or so, even the reputable papers had a pre-written obituary ready to go, just in case.
This, of course, would be the only thing Lohan would have in common with Terry Gilliam.
With hindsight, it’s difficult to say exactly what it was about Lohan that drove the media (and, indeed, the public at large) to distraction. A cursory look at her filmography reveals exactly two midrange hits before the downward spiral began, and it would be difficult to argue that the direct appeal of those movies came from Lohan herself. Even by the time her chef d’oeuvre Mean Girls came out (and it’s important to note that the film wasn’t quite the huge hit everyone remembers it as; it’s status only grew after the fact), she was already becoming something of a tabloid fixture.
Other than rehab, the prototypical rite of passage for the female child star turned serious actress (And let us take a moment to recuse males here; for as the old saying goes, “Male child actors burn bright; child actresses only fade away after they’re old enough to determine whether or not they’ll be fuckable”) is the Adult Movie For Grownups, which are, inevitably, terrible. For when the draw for your film comes from the salacious promise of someone you watched grow up on screen engage in adult situations (as is almost always the case), you’ve already compromised your artistry for mere publicity and shock value.
I Know Who Killed Me, then, at least deserves credit for being terrible in bizarre and fascinating ways.
Granted, Lohan had already somewhat transitioned away from teen roles; there was Prairie Home Companion, the movie that finally killed Robert Altman; Chapter 27, where she got swallowed up right along with all the scenery Human ‘Hot Topic’ Outlet Jared Leto could stomach; and of course, Georgia Rule, more famous for her papparazzi-led, panty-less southern exposure than for being a movie about sexual abuse directed with all the sensitivity and tact you’d expect from Garry fuckin’ Marshall. But I Know Who Killed Me was something different: her first starring role in a mainstream adult thriller. Though, when the details of the movie come into focus, it becomes terribly difficult to figure out who anybody thought this movie was for.
The film begins with Lohan in class, reading her short story to the class. And if you were to assume that said story might possibly be thuddingly thematically relevant to what’s about to unfold, congratulations: you might just be first time (and as yet only time) screenwriter Jeffrey Hammond.
Lohan’s Aubrey is a good girl with a loving family and an active social life: her jock boyfriend is horny yet patient, her friends are understanding of her recent feelings of disconnection, and her parents fully support her desire to abandon her piano lessons to become a terrible writer.
(Plus, her father is played by Neal McDonough! I mean, what are the odds that that dude has some kind of hidden secret?)
But of course, her seemingly idyllic existence is short lived. One night after a football game, she disappears without a trace, only to show up two weeks later, missing a hand and a leg and claiming to be someone else entirely, a white trash named Dakota Moss who works at a strip club… or to be more accurate, a club where women dance very slowly and poorly but don’t take their clothes off, all of which the male clientele seem perfectly fine with.
By the way, not for nothing, but by some odd coincidence Dakota Moss just happens to be the name of the main character in Aubrey’s short story!
This is roughly as much as one needs to know going in. And, to be fair, heavy handedness aside, it’s a perfectly serviceable, relatively intriguing setup, give or take a nudity free strip club (Look, all you wannabe Grindhouse-Keepers out there, rule number one is this: know your audience. To paraphrase some dude from Boardwalk Empire, you can’t be half an exploiter). If one can’t imagine making a good movie with this premise, it’s easy to imagine making a fun, guilty pleasure out of it.
And the very specific way the filmmakers managed to screw that up is the very reason we’re all here today.
Let’s start with the title: As titles go, I Know Who Killed Me is one for the ages, gloriously pulpy, and winningly absurd. It seems to promise a knowing noirish romp, in the tacky and gleefully exploitive styles of a previous era of filmmaking.
Which leads to the first mistake: the tone. This is one humorless, dour slog of a film. Where the title promises a knowing, tongue in cheek noir pastiche, the film it delivers aligns itself much closer to the then-rampant torture porn genre. The scenes of an imprisoned Lohan being tortured are ugly and sickening to watch. As absurd as the movie gets (and it gets plenty absurd; please keep in mind that this is a film where Lindsay Lohan literally becomes a cyborg), grounding it in such lovingly photographed unpleasantness leaves a horrible taste in the viewers mouth.
(To be clear, dear reader: that is not one of the joking parts. THIS IS AN ACTUAL THING THAT HAPPENS.)
Which leads to the second, far larger problem: the wrong vehicle for the wrong tabloid princess. In trying to play on the media fascination with Lohan, they misjudged our relationship with her: we laughed at her, we pitied her, but we never actively rooted for her to suffer.
If they wanted to make this movie the way they did, they should have made it with Paris Hilton.
Granted, the resulting movie would be even worse, but at least there’d be some sense of catharsis.
But instead, they went with Lindsay Lohan, which is a problem on at least two levels: First, we don’t really enjoy watching her get tortured; and Second: playing a dual role is asking just a bit too much of her.
Yes, in some ways this is a callback to her role as twins in the Parent Trap (though it’s difficult to imagine that was intentional on anyones part), but let’s be real here: that was a movie for kids. Though Lohan isn’t as untalented as a lot of cheap shot artists would have you believe, her range is… rather limited.
(Is this one a cheap shot, you guys? I feel like this one might be a cheap shot.)
What Lindsay Lohan excels at as an actress is her emotional guilelessness, her commitment to attempting to finding the wounded humanity and emotional realism in her characters. What she does NOT excel at is artifice. Many actors have the ability to invent mannerisms to make their characters more interesting onscreen than they are on the page. Take a guy like Tom Hardy, who is supernaturally gifted at making choices that turn nothing roles like Bane into the best parts of his movies. Or Charlize Theron, who transcends the general shittiness of an Aeon Flux by in her every gesture with a hypnotic slinky authority.
But investing thinly written characters with anything resembling an inner life or interesting mannerisms is simply beyond Lohan’s abilities. And characters don’t come much more thinly written than the two Creative Writing 101 stick figures she’s asked to flesh out here, leaving her very much stranded.
Pulp is simply not the right vehicle for her particular skill set.
And yet, if it simply came down to miscasting, this would not be a movie worth 1200 words and counting. No, there’s really only one reason I’m writing about this movie: because the whole enterprise is batshit fucking insane from top to bottom.
Granted, it would be a simple thing to just link to the plot synopsis on Wikipedia. But it’s one thing to read about this shit; it’s another thing entirely to watch it unfold with your own eyes and be forced to acknowledge the fact that a whole lot of people thought this would actually work. To be fair, director Chris Sivertson directs the hell out of it, going for cut rate de Palma and mostly succeeding. But for me, the surefit of style doesn’t quite overcome the rancid substance.
Which is not to say that I regret watching it, or that I would go so far as to not recommend it to curious viewers. In a world where average is the new terrible, it’s instructive to see how actual, real deal terrible happens.
NEXT WEEK: Something good, probably.
(Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention this guy. Mainly because fuck this guy.)