The River Murders (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The River Murders (2011)

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It's going to be a long week here at Can't Stop the Movies.  I trudged through Hesher and The Tempest last week only to find both of them lacking.  This week I present to you a stirring tribute to the Direct To DVD (DTDVD) bin starting off with Ray Liotta, Ving Rhames and Christian Slater together in the same crime drama, The River Murders.

If the title doesn't immediately make you think of Mystic River then the melodramatic score and imagery loaded with dead women will right that straight away.  In fact, it's emphasis on those dead women gives The River Murders a very unsightly edge which could be interesting if it weren't so interested in photographing them nude and floating.  Barely two minutes in and we have the first spliced in over the opening credits, which quickly becomes a recurring theme.

The other recurring portion deals with one of the ex-boyfriends of this particular floating corpse.  Jack Verdon (Ray Liotta) is a homicide detective who dated the first of many dead women years ago.  We know this because of some creepily handled exposition which takes place where the body is found, informing us "Last time we dated was 12 years ago.  Last time we had sex was right there.  This makes me a suspect."  Hot on the heels of his now girlfriend short-order bar chef introducing the identity of this dead woman as "Sarah Richards, the one that works in the DA's office" provides an indication of the script-writing acumen we'll be dealing with.

A number of supporting characters immediately disappear into the next scene. Such as not Ed Harris and not Mark Ruffalo here.

Exposition is clumsy and blunt, coming out of the mouths of characters who should not even have access to the information presented, and delivered by performers who really should know better.  It's not there's anything particularly wrong with the performances from Liotta, Ving Rhames and Christian Slater but they should have better things to do at this point.  In a sense, it almost does the film a disservice they treat it with the same kind of solemn seriousness as the writing and cinematography do.

At the same time, I don't know how the senseless killings of so many women could have been handled differently except by rewriting the entire movie.  A gruesome plot development rears its ugly head fairly early on when it's revealed each of these women had a wedding ring jammed into their vagina after death.  This, combined with the killers' eventually revealed motivation, makes for a potent case on destroying patriarchy altogether so we can, perhaps, move beyond making movies based on slaughtering women for men.

But it's a long time getting there.  For a moment, I almost thought the movie was trying to go for some kind of satire of "women in trouble" murder/thriller films.  For example, Verdon's mother dies so quickly after the police discover the first body the timing has a strangely comic effect on the film in terms of wondering who is going to die next.  This is undone by the discovery of the vagina mutilation, but somewhat funny beforehand.

Ray Liotta can be good when he's allowed to be intense or unhinged. Brooding is not one of his strong points as a performer.

Then there is the subject of those sex scenes.  Every time the police discover a new body Verdon rushes to the location of another crime the film flashes back to the first time Verdon had sex with the victim.  This provides a source of unintentional hilarity as quickly as the second body, when he (in a very badly cast early version of himself) is dressed in full white garb, about to make it with a girl in a white dress.  This, to note, takes place on the dirty ground of the woods and is presented as an event that was planned and not spontaneous.  Might they have worn more appropriate clothing?

Less subtle is the sex scene involving the Oriental massage parlor worker.  Slightly racist presentation aside, the flashback sex scene involves roughly five-dozen candles, a geisha robe, and some light non-culturally coital music sounding like it could come from Korea, Japan or China.  I presume this is to cover all bases.

Regardless, nothing in this movie is particularly inspired and what bits stretch this notion go into Seven territory in the worst way possible.  Which is where the film produces its most brutal and ethically disgusting image with a bag filled of material that had me wondering about the shelf-life of afterbirth.

Almost as to prove my review of Tactical Force was a once in a longtime fluke, this DTDVD is best treated as a misbegotten outcast of feature films.  Worse, it costs more than Seven and Mystic River in the same store.  Go with either one of those.  Bare minimum, you won't be nearly as bored.

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The River Murders (2011)

Directed by Rich Cowan.
Screenplay by Steven Anderson.
Starring Ray Liotta, Ving Rhames and Christian Slater.

Posted by Andrew

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