The Minus Man (1999)

Garofalo and WilsonStarring Owen Wilson, Brian Cox, Mercedes Ruehl, Janeane Garofalo, Dwight Yoakum, Dennis Haysbert, Sheryl Crow.
Written and directed by Hampton Fancher.

Grade: C

Review by Alison Tweedie-Perry.

The tagline for The Minus Man warns "Don't go alone--unless you like talking to yourself." Since I am no stranger to talking to myself, I figured I was up to the challenge. Afterwards, the only thing I could find myself wanting to say was, “And?” This movie brought to mind Otto from A Fish Called Wanda, the brilliantly stupid character that won Kevin Kline an Oscar. During an exchange in which Jamie Lee Curtis’ Wanda has called Otto a stupid ape, he proclaims, “Apes don't read Nietzche!” “Yes they do, they just don't understand it,” she ripostes. Similarly, The Minus Man carries around lugubrious pacing and Hitchcock references and smugly proclaims that these things make it smart.

Owen Wilson in The Minus ManThe movie’s primary claim to intelligence lies in the fact that it’s a non-violent serial killer movie. Owen Wilson plays Vann Siegert, a guy who, for very little reason we can discern, finds the need to kill random people he encounters. Not wanting them to think ill of him or because he realizes that just because he feels the need to kill, innocent people shouldn’t have to suffer–beyond dying, of course–he poisons them with toxic amaretto. After offing his first victim, a honky-tonk junkie (Sheryl Crow), he rolls into a small town, moves in with a sad couple (Brian Cox and Mercedes Ruehl) whose college-age daughter is missing, and sets about becoming the friend, confidant, boyfriend, and hard-working mail carrier to the townfolk.

Despite a couple of incongruous cracks in his otherwise placid good-guy manner, and the imaginary detectives (Dwight Yoakum and Dennis Haysbert) who pop up to converse with him at regular intervals, Vann is the least violent character in our violent, messed-up world. There’s no tension, no mystery, and seemingly little point to this movie, beyond that single irony. Still, it’s a quirky, well acted movie with some redeeming value, if only by being a non-violent serial killer movie with some Hitchcockian homages sprinkled throughout. Janeane Garofalo is wonderful as the postal maiden Ferrin, a part that allows her to stretch her persona a bit. The Minus Man is further notable for being the directorial debut of Hampton Fancher, the 60-something co-author of the screenplay to Blade Runner.

Review © September 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
© 1998 The Shooting Gallery. All rights reserved.

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