“Mister, you’ve done some bad things and I’m gonna deal out some swift justice!”
There are plenty of movies I avoid because I’m not a fan of the people involved. But there’s a much more exclusive list. The list of movies I avoid because I love the people involved and don’t want to see their legacy besmirched. It’s probably close to a decade since I first found out about the existence of Crimewave. Directed by Sam Raimi, written by Raimi along with Joel and Ethan Coen. What’s not to love? Well, according to every single review ever written about Crimewave, a lot.
The Coen Brothers might be the greatest living writers and directors working in cinema as we speak. I even think they’re remake of The Lady Killers is pretty great. And when it comes to high concept, genre cinema, Sam Raimi is up there as one of the all time greats. So what happens when you put them together with the seemingly perfect subject matter of screwball, old timey 20s fare? Well, not very much.
In a quintessentially dark, Coen brothers manner, Crimewave opens hilariously with someone being marched to the electric chair. That someone is Reed Birney as Victor Ajax. And his journey to the electric chair is the flash back story on offer. Working for a small time security company, Reed is caught up in a world of hit men, deception, double crosses and general back stabbery initiated by everyone but Reed. All the while, all he wants is to win the heart of his dream girl, Nancy (Sheree J Wilson). But she’s already swooning for self referred heel, the perfectly cast Bruce Campbell as Ronaldo.
I’m not sure what kind of movie Crimewave is trying to be, and that’s not such a bad thing. What is bad, is the fact that I don’t think Raimi and the Coen brothers know either. Is it a tribute to screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s? Is it a live action cartoon talking its cues from Loony Tunes? Is it a post modern comment and tongue in cheek updating of those things? It never really sticks to any one approach long enough to build any sort of coherence.
Here’s what is great though, and if you’re at all familiar with the man, this won’t surprise you. Bruce Campbell. As the womanising, cocksure heel, he never misses a single smarmy, shit eating beat.
When Crimewave was made, the only other movie to Raimi’s credit was his cult classic The Evil Dead. And the Coens had only made Blood Simple. So it’s unfair to compare their collective bodies of work, and their impressive careers since, to Crimewave. But I guess hindsight is a bitch, and the fact is, these three dudes have all become immensely impressive writers and film makers. So if the downside is we can all look back on Crimewave as a pretty embarrassing and disappointing example of growing pains, I’m sure they can live with that.