A drearily protracted two-hander made on a shoestring, “Boxing Day” reps Brit multihyphenate Bernard Rose’s fourth and least interesting adaptation of a Leo Tolstoy text. Resetting the plot of novella “Master and Man” in contempo Colorado, the pic hitches a ride with an amoral speculator (Danny Huston) and his chauffeur for a day (Matthew Jacobs) as they drive around suburbs, and later mountains, checking out foreclosed properties Huston’s character plans to flip for profit. Shot on digital by the helmer, the pic looks like a hundred miles of bad road, and won’t travel far beyond niche distribution.
Having mounted a lavish version of “Anna Karenina” in 1997, Rose begun a trilogy of much lower-budgeted, contempo-set adaptations of Tolstoy stories with 2000’s compelling “Ivansxtc” (based on “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”) and then continued in 2008 with his less rewarding version of “The Kreutzer Sonata.” “Boxing Day” marks the last in the series, which is good news, because it’s clear Rose’s ability to re-channel the Russian master has been played out.
Pic begins competently enough in Los Angeles, on Dec. 26 (hence the title, a reference to the holiday known as Boxing Day in Blighty), with businessman Basil (Huston) using maxed-out credit cards to get a flight to Denver. In possession of a list of foreclosed properties he could get on the cheap, and with access to funds from a wealthy dupe, Basil is met at Denver airport by English part-time chauffeur Nick (Jacobs), a recovering alcoholic whose wife (Morgan Walsh) has a restraining order out against him.
Nick increasingly tests Basil’s (and the aud’s) patience with repeated attempts to make conversation as they drive further and further afield, into the mountains. Eventually, they engage in politely heated debate about capitalism and the nature of greed, dialogue over-signposted to make the material appear relevant to the present day. Apart from that and a visit to a roadside saloon, nothing much happens for more than an hour of running time until the car gets trapped in thick snow, and the pic abruptly shifts into a survival story with a moralistic sting.
As well as writing and helming, Rose also shoots and edits the pic, and contributes as both a composer (with Nigel Holland) and a performer for its mournful score of piano pieces played in a minor key, including a Schubert sonata. Unfortunately, he does an undistinguished job in every department. But given the sensitive ear he’s has shown on other films, “Boxing Day” is particularly disappointing on the music front, especially when it inserts a blast of Henryk Gorecki’s way-overused Third Symphony at the climactic moment.
Perfs by the two leads fail to lift the material, with Jacobs (customarily a screenwriter, who had a small part in Rose’s “Mr. Nice,” and who wrote the helmer’s excellent early work “Paperhouse”) doing just OK, and Huston verging on hammy in the last act.