Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mute Witness

There is a suitably intense, frightening movie to be made out of the raw elements of 1994's MUTE WITNESS, but this isn't it.  Watching it was a frustrating and at times exasperating experience.  Seeing a promising set-up go awry after its grand opening scene is worse than if it were putrid from frame one.  An actress overdoes her death scene for a low budget horror film being shot in Moscow.   I mean, really over does it - after being stabbed, she dances like a drunk, pulls a tablecloth from under a fully set table, has a bookcase fall on her, and tears down the drapes.  The director, Andy (Evan Richards) berates her scenery chewing - "This is not Chekhov!" You might wonder why the director would let this nonsense go on so long, then throw a tantrum when his set dresser informs him it will take an entire day to have it ready for a redo.

As MUTE WITNESS progresses, you'll understand why.  Andy is an idiot.  A wimp, too.  His character is a large part of what's wrong with this movie.  Everything he says and does is moronic.  You wonder if he could direct traffic.  He's an American in Russia shooting his opus 'cause it's cheaper than in the States.  Ah, art imitates life! This is exactly why writer/director Anthony Waller did likewise with this movie.

Waller shoots in great locations and knows a thing or two about how to create suspense.  His story follows a make-up artist named Billy (Marina Zudina) who can hear but not speak.  She and her sister Karen (Fay Ripley), who is also Andy's girlfriend, are working on said low budget thriller.   Billy accidentally gets locked in the studio after hours one night and secretly stumbles upon a porno that becomes a snuff film.  She is eventually discovered and chased by the cameraman and actor, the one who plunged a knife into his sex partner.  The hallway and elevator shaft scenes that follow are the best moments in MUTE WITNESS.

Later, Billy escapes and contacts her sister and Andy.  Everyone convenes at the murder site.  The police arrive to investigate.  Our snuff film crew insist that Billy witnessed movie magic, not a real killing.  But Billy does this shit for a living, you see, and knows the difference.  But the two man crew have efficiently wiped away all evidence, including the corpse. standard development.  But is Waller playing a gag on us viewers? Did Billy in fact make a mistake?

Had the director taken this route, played a bit with what is real and what isn't (like in 1986's F/X, for example), MUTE WITNESS might've been more interesting.  Instead, we get confirmation of the crime and then a lot of hokum involving an incriminating computer disc and Russian mobsters, led by "The Reaper", played by none other than Sir Alec Guinness, who appears in a few scenes shot in the back seat of a limousine*.  There is also a mysterious figure named Larsen (Oleg Yankovsky) who comes to Billy's aid and claims to be an undercover detective.  There is a climax that involves a fake out, but if you fall for it you really need to see more movies.

Despite a few amusing gags, Waller supplies way too much cheesy comedy in this movie - especially via the endless bickering between Andy and Karen.  You'll almost wish they get bumped off before it's over.  Every time they're onscreen the suspense and atmosphere created, be it in run down flats and city streets, drains away.  Wilbert Hirsch's music is intermittently effective.

A shame.  A good, nasty thriller with a wicked sense of humor should've been the result.  I haven't seen Waller's other efforts (which included the poorly received AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS), but I would hope he learned some restraint with the use of comedy.  His other skills indicate there is a decent movie in him.

*Guinness' scenes were shot nearly a decade prior to the rest of MUTE WITNESS.  Waller met the actor in Germany and convinced him to sit in a car a say a few lines.  

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