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Straight shootin’ about “Demolition”

Distributed by Fox Searchlight
Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
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DEMOLITION is off from the first frame and never grounds itself enough to make a coherent argument. Hard to tell whether it’s Jake Gyllenhaal’s perplexed expression as he endeavors to show himself empty of emotions after the accidental death of his wife or the ill-thought storyline that appears to go in one direction and then unexplainably veers into another. Jean-Marc Vallée, who previously directed the excellent DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, can’t sustain interest in what boils down to tired tropes and clichés aplenty and little less.

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Jake Gyllenhaal in a still from the movie DEMOLITION

Davis, a financial wizard, works in his father-in-law’s firm (said father–in-law being Chris Cooper in his first-ever so-so part). On a ride home, his wife Julia driving, a car runs into them at the intersection and instantly kills Julia, leaving Davis unscathed. Davis then becomes sort of unhinged in a number of ways, including writing rambling letters to a customer service center regarding an ill-functioning snack distributor. On a roll, he writes about his unlived life, his unloved dead wife, an overall miserable picture that he doesn’t even feel bad about in his state of utter numbness. He takes sledgehammers to anything and everything around him, purposefully but with no reason that he can explain destroying appliances, computers, his fancy contemporary home and his office at the firm. He even forces himself on a demolition crew, paying them to be allowed to bring down walls and break windows. None of this is convincing. We don’t feel enough for the guy to become interested although the general metaphor may be something one of the characters say: you have to take something apart to be able put it together again. Some deep thinking going on right here.

In the meantime, the customer service person, a pothead named Karen (Naomi Watts) is moved by the weird letters that keep coming. She calls Davis, he comes to her house, she goes to his, a sort-of-friendship, nothing more, develops between them. Karen has a ten-year old son, Chris (Judah Lewis, the first child-actor who can’t act that I have ever seen. Aren’t they supposed to be naturals?) who bonds with Davis, which bonding becomes another story line, Karen more or less forgotten. The boring film finally draws to its moral conclusion. Davis loved his wife all along, he is redeemed in his in-laws’s eyes, they all watch dewy-eyed as an old French merry-go-round is restored and welcomes neighborhood tots—restoration as opposed to demolition. Get it? Cherry on the cake of this dismal offering, Davis who has always regretted not running fast enough as a kid here races on the beach with a bunch of boys and leaves them behind. Slow clap.

This film came out in theaters on April 8th.

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