'The Mortician'

This vaguely dystopian, oddly disconnected 3D urban noir is a slick but simple-minded fable.

In a new twist for 3D, “The Mortician” puts a filmmaker interested in atmospherics and heavily stylized visuals at the reins of a digitally shot stereoscopic live-action feature, making for compositions that, while not necessarily enhanced by the added dimension, look reasonably strong to begin with. Considering Method Man’s involvement is the only other angle going for this vaguely dystopian, oddly disconnected urban noir, the producers no doubt hoped the 3D would boost interest in their slick but simple-minded fable — and it probably will, showing director Gareth Maxwell Roberts’ otherwise DOA endeavor has its finger on that pulse, at least.

Using snippets of end-is-nigh news broadcasts to establish the collapse of the system as we know it, “The Mortician” opens on scenes of golden-tinged urban blight. Abandoned factories, run-down warehouses and graffiti-stained streets all look honey-crisp through filters, an effect reminiscent of “Delicatessen” or a severely under-art-directed Terry Gilliam movie.

In an almost catatonically uncharismatic lead perf, Method Man plays a monosyllabic mortician tasked with — well, it’s never entirely clear, as Roberts doesn’t seem to have spent any time researching what actually happens at a mortuary, relying instead on odd closeups of typical mad-scientist-style behavior, such as greasing a gnarly-looking rotary saw or swirling a beaker full of liquid. The mortician is a loner, deadly serious about his work, to the exclusion of all but his two hobbies: visiting a wholesome-looking and all-around friendly prostitute named Ava (Dana Fuchs) and practicing taxidermy on strangers’ pets.

These being violent times, the corpses stack up at a steady rate, but one young lady in particular catches his eye thanks to the tattoo of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” that covers her abdomen, awakening long-dormant memories of the mortician’s own childhood and missing mother. Seems the lonely fellow never got a chance to say goodbye to his mom, and seeks redemption on the job, dedicating himself to helping others pay their final respects.

As if the situation weren’t already at risk of borderline silliness, the setup adds a thuggish parole case, Noah (E.J. Bonilla), to the mix as the mortuary’s new porter — another job only fleetingly connected to its real-world equivalent, but a welcome addition nonetheless, since Noah’s involvement with mysterious neighborhood kid Kane (Cruz Santiago) brings a level of intrigue to the plot. The mortician hardly needs to bother with autopsies to know that most of the fatalities in the area trace back to local crime boss Carver (Dash Mihok), who wants Kane dead.

A proper actor could have spun a poignant connection between this stoic, emotionally stunted adult and the boy facing a similar trauma in the present, but Method Man doesn’t make it easy for us to empathize with his enigmatic character, coming across as largely inexpressive behind his big glasses and dark black beard, the contours of which are a continuity nightmare, distractingly waxing and waning across his cheekbones from shot to shot.

It’s troubling that this fairy tale-like plot pivots on the fate of a minor, considering the environment that surrounds these characters is defined by scenes of rape, torture and drug abuse, even if such acts are presented in the cartoonish shorthand associated with ’80s action movies.

The one thing that seems to work for “The Mortician” is Roberts’ visual aesthetic, as captured by d.p. Michael McDonough, who finds a peculiar beauty in the dilapidated environment. Although the primarily Louisiana-based locations aren’t especially convincing as a lawless future and don’t benefit much from the use of 3D, they do provide a uniquely rundown backdrop against which Roberts and his resourceful crew can suggest a broader state of unrest, which helps in a movie where dead-body extras seem to outnumber the too-small living cast.

The Mortician

U.K.-U.S.

Production

A Full Circle Films presentation in association with Belladonna Prods., Film and Music Entertainment and Molinare. (International sales: Full Circle Films, London.) Produced by Rhys Thomas, Gareth Maxwell Roberts, Rene Bastian, Linda Moran. Co-producers, Mike Downey, Samantha Taylor, Clare Tutte. Executive producers, Ben Katzler, Theo Freed, Robert Muston, William G. Thomas, Carlo Dusi. Co-executive producers, Stephen Mitchell, Helen Pope, Ruth Jones, Elliot Cassignol. Directed, written by Gareth Maxwell Roberts.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen, HD, 3D), Michael McDonough; editor, David Charap; music, Mike Benn; music supervisor, Meira Shore; production designer, Russell Barnes; set decorator, Michelle Marchand; costume designer, Raquel Azevedo; sound (Dolby Digital), B.J. Lehn; sound designer, Shaula Lumley; re-recording mixers, Nigel Squibbs, Dan Johnson; special effects supervisor, Dave Nami; Shanaullah Umerji; stereographer, Keith Collea; line producer, Jason Hewitt; associate producers, George Beardow, Jordon Carter, Philip Tsui, Suk Han, Mathew Tsui; casting, Eve Battaglia. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 12, 2011. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Method Man, Dash Mihok, E.J. Bonilla, Judy Marte, Angelic Zambrana, Wendell Pierce, Dana Fuchs, Edward Furlong, Cruz Santiago.

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