Dames, bulls, guns, and the meaning of love: “Give ’em Hell Malone”

February 12, 2012

The nice thing about trawling through the cinematic detritus is that every so often you find a diamond in the rough. Yeah, that’s a pretty low bar to clear, but, hey, if life has taught me anything it’s that the lower your standards, the happier you are. If you expect every movie to a Citizen Kane, you’re going to turn into a perpetually-dissatisfied misanthrope. If, however, you merely expect a movie to match or surpass, say Robot Jox, you’re gonna be a pretty happy guy most of the time. The movie I found in the 70 baht bin at the local Boomerang store was Give ‘em Hell, Malone, a low-budget genre mash-up that isn’t quite good, but is much more entertaining that it has any right to be.

Give ‘em Hell, Malone takes place in a weird, parallel universe which looks like present day, but where people still dress and talk like it’s the ‘40s. Some of them even have vintage cars, but most don’t. Some rooms look like they were designed Howard Hawk’s set decorator. Others feature TVs and modern appliances. Call it “Negligible Budgetland.”

The movie begins in media res, as Malone, a tough-talking private eye played by Thomas Jane (who’s really very good in this type of role), is in the midst of a furious gun battle with a half-dozen or so hoods. Dispatching most of them, as well as taking a bullet in the shoulder for his trouble is actually a nice way to establish our protagonist’s bona fides. So is the fact he uses a rare Mateba semiautomatic revolver (yes, you read that right), which is all sorts of awesome. Anyway, immediately prior to opening of the movie, Malone had picked up a mysterious briefcase, and these dudes want it back very badly.

I like my guns like I like my women: dark and exotic

Malone is a bit of a hard-luck case. The story on the street about him is that his wife, son, and brother were all killed in a hit meant for him. Malone, it is said, went on a rampage throughout the criminal underworld, hunting the assassins. When he found them, he is alleged to have ripped their hearts out of their chests and ate them. That’s, like, one-notch more badass than Mola Ram. This legend means that Malone is known in the underworld and provides a good running joke about the plausibility of being able to rip through someone’s sternum.

When Malone confronts Murphy (Leland Orser), the guy who hired him, he meets the movie’s femme fatale, Evelyn (Elsa Pataky, last seen in Fast Five). Evelyn is kind of dame that gets under a guy’s skin. Particularly with her sob story about a kidnapped brother, for whose life she was going to trade the contents of the case. Throwing a wrench into the works is Malone, who opened the case and knows its contents: The Meaning of Love. Yeah, this sounds douchey as hell, but actually pays off in the end.

This is not the meaning of love. Good start, though…

On the other side of things is a criminal boss named Whitmore (Gregory Harrison), who wants the case very badly. To this end, he has lined up a gang of the city’s premiere killers. His right-hand man is Boulder (Ving Rhames), a dapper leg-breaker whose comatose wife’s medical bills are covered by Whitmore in exchange for his loyalty.

To Boulder’s chagrin, he’s partnered with Matchstick (Doug Hutchinson, known to audiences as the bad guy from damn near everything, and then marrying an 17 year-old girl in Vegas). Matchstick is a mainline firebug, introduced locking the fire doors of a nightclub he’s just sent up in flames. He gets creepier as the movie goes on and finally almost reaches levels of skeeve that rival Hutchinson’s own.

This image will haunt your dreams.

Rounding out the murderous trio is the female assassin Mauler (the arresting Chris Yen), who we first meet dressing up as a school girl so she can castrate a pedophile with a razor blade hidden in her mouth. It takes a lot to top that, but top it she does.   

James Bond dreams of being interrogated this way…

Malone soon finds himself on the run, and trying to untangle the mystery of the case, who wants it, and why.  This entails shaking down a sleazy nightclub crooner, numerous gunfights, fistfights, immolations, stabbings, and beatings. You know, pretty much all the things you go to the movies for.

Give ‘em Hell Malone, knows well what it’s influences are, and wears them on its sleeve. The “meaning of love” refrain can’t help but recall “The things dreams are made of,” closing line from The Maltese Falcon, and Raymond Chandler’s stories “The Pencil” and “Goldfish” are referenced quickly in some throwaway bits of dialogue. It doesn’t add much to the story, but they’re nice knowing winks to the audience.

In the end, Give ‘em Hell Malone is a satisfying 90 minutes spent in front of the screen. It’s not a great film (I’m not even sure we should refer to it as a filmflick seems more appropriate), but not stupid or poorly executed. Yeah, in the denouement, the plot falls apart in a terrible way, but it all still pays off—more or less—in the end.  Hey, we’ve been through worse (much, much worse) in this blog, right?

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