A profoundly unnecessary movie, “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman” stars Shia LaBeouf as a Ratso Rizzo-impersonating American tourist bumbling through the Romanian netherworld in search of Evan Rachel Wood, whose accent and demeanor suggest that someone dumped a truckload of Ambien into the Bucharest water supply. Strained attempts at magic realism will leave viewers more irritated than enchanted; a name cast, which includes the usually wonderful Mads Mikkelsen, could well lead to theatrical play, but Fredrik Bond’s direction and Matt Drake’s screenplay deliver a charisma-free trip into a world of gratuitous violence, contrivances and tedium.
A key drawback is that the film fails to assemble a collection of characters a viewer can care about. Charlie (LaBeouf), a morbidly depressed young Chicagoan, certainly plays on viewers’ sympathies: He’s losing his mother (Melissa Leo), whose soul he watches leave her body in a wisp of light that circles her hospital room. Shortly thereafter, Mom visits Charlie and tells him to go to Bucharest.
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The randomness of the directive is typical of the pic, which opens with a bleeding Charlie dangling upside down over the Bucharest waterfront, as Gabi (Wood) and Nigel (Mikkelsen) decide his fate. The series of unlikely coincidences and implausible occurrences that get him to this point begins on the flight to Romania, where Charlie’s seat-mate, Victor (Ion Caramitru), a Cubs fan returning from a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field, promptly drops dead. Charlie’s reaction — hysteria — is symptomatic of what’s wrong with Charlie and the movie: He’s simply uncool, to the point that it’s impossible to root for him, regardless of the mistreatments and abuses that are to follow as he tries to fulfill Victor’s last wish, to deliver the ridiculous hat he bought in Chicago to his daughter, Gabi.
Another depressive, Gabi plays the cello, worked in a strip bar, knows all the worst people in Bucharest, is a crack shot with a pistol and a bad judge of men, to go by Nigel and Charlie. Charlie manages to immediately incur the wrath of a nasty mobster played by Til Schweiger: “My name is Darko,” he says, to which Charlie replies, “Really?” Definitely not cool.
Charlie’s misadventures, during which he invariable gets beaten to a pulp, include his introduction to a youth hostel and two drug-addled roommates (James Buckley, Rupert Grint), who stage an Ecstasy-fueled orgy that may or may not be a hallucination, but certainly gives one the sense that the film is killing time. Likewise, the reason for a sex scene between Charlie and Gabi that has no organic bond with the storyline, such as it is. But heck, why not?
There’s barely a serious moment in “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman,” with the actors offering up vaguely tongue-in-cheek portrayals of characters either too cliched or unpleasant to deserve much else. There’s a pretty good chase scene in the Bucharest subway, with a conclusion lifted from “The French Connection.” But the film’s ending will have viewers shaking their heads in dismay; necessity may be the mother of invention, but “Charlie Countryman” is the father of exasperation.
Tech credits are fine, with Roman Vasyanov’s lensing quite impressive, especially his night shooting around Bucharest.