After the mixed reception, even from fans, for “The Mother of Tears,” Italian schlock-maestro Dario Argento shows further indifference to his reputation by releasing his latest, “Giallo,” under his own name. Ludicrous, craptastically made even by Argento’s usual low-budget standards, and not even remotely scary or amusingly campy — unlike its predecessor, which at least has a so-bad-it’s-great following — this serial-killer story plays like a work for hire that no one had much fun working on. The helmer’s die-hard admirers undoubtedly will show some support, especially in ancillary, but the pic won’t coin much B.O. gold.
Pic’s title (which means “yellow” in Italian) ostensibly refers to the name assigned its serial-killer villain because of his jaundiced appearance. However, it’s also a reference to the genre of thriller and horror films with which Argento is most associated, such as “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage” (1970), “Deep Red” (1975), and “Tenebre” (1982). Argento maniacs will no doubt search the pic for resonances and echoes of older, greater works. Everyone else will just wonder what this rubbish is all about.
In modern Turin, an ochre-skinned taxi driver (credited onscreen as Byron Deidra, an anagram for Adrien Brody, disguised under a ton of latex) preys on foreign women he picks up as fares and then tortures, maims and kills (“He hates beautiful things!”). His latest kidnap victim is a model, Celine (Elsa Pataky, whose screams of fury and despair must have come easy once she realized what she’d signed on for).
Celine’s flight-attendant sister Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner) hooks up with obsessive, brooding (or perhaps just bored) Inspector Enzo Avolfi (Brody again) in a race against the proverbial clock to find Celine before she ends up mutilated and dead like Giallo’s last victim (Valentina Izumi).
Argento and editor Roberto Silvi rely heavily on shock cuts for impact, but the only thing that’s truly shocking is the script, a yellowing mound of cliches that the thesps deliver with all the enthusiasm of week-old corpses. The results are unintentionally hilarious at times, as when Avolfi explains, in a flat monotone, how he escaped prosecution for a murder by merely telling the cops that he had a good reason. “Sometimes you got to do what has to be done,” he drones.
Pic experienced a reportedly troubled production history, with several cast changes (Brody replaced Ray Liotta, Seigner subbed for Argento’s daughter Asia when she became pregnant). Perhaps these problems account for the hastily slapped-together feel of the whole ensemble, although Argento has fared better with worse budgets and lesser-known stars. Rough-and-ready production values have always been part of his films’ charm, but this time the charm’s worn off.