The Minus Man (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"The Minus Man" is a portrait of a mass murderer. He appears to be a sweet guy, and is kind in some ways. He poisons people because he deplores violence.

It stars Owen Wilson, the amiable sidekick of Jackie Chan in "Shanghai Noon." He's used effectively in this role as well, with the film capitalizing on his laid-back charm and innocent good looks, contrasted with his icy lack of a moral compass. This is the factor that drives the film, because the townspeople and the audience love the guy. He's hard-working and diligent and always presents the perfect face to the world. He's such an unassuming puppy dog that even cynical women in bars will go home with him. Oprah would have had him on if she knew he was in town.

It's a pretty cool movie for a low budget indie, because the viewer lives pretty much entirely inside the murderer's mind, awake and asleep. You feel his fear and tension when he is near capture; you understand his methods. Most chillingly, you feel his attitude about motivations and his choice of victims. He doesn't think about right and wrong. Some guys create web pages. He creates corpses. He doesn't choose his victims. They choose him. "They come to me because I shine"

The screenwriter/director, Hampton Fancher, is the guy who wrote Blade Runner. Clearly he wanted to make a movie where we don't feel revulsion for a mass murderer, but rather curiosity and fascination, and maybe we hate ourselves a little bit for liking him and secretly rooting for him. It's a pretty good movie, but almost totally actionless. It's 100% character driven. The tension comes from wondering, along with him, what he'll do next, and whether he'll get caught.

It also had a controversial surprise ending that I'm not going to ruin for you, because you may find this one worth watching.

I like the layered title. On the one hand, he's minus a whole set of governing scruples that mark the typical human. On the other hand, he also does some subtraction of the number of people in any place he visits.

You may remember the theatrical trailer, which never showed any scenes from the movie at all, but rather pictured a couple coming out of the theater discussing it, so intently enrapt in the conversation that she is late for work the next morning. She's a lifeguard, and her failure to show up causes two people to drown. It was quite gripping.

No nudity.

Box Office: pretty much nothing. ($300,000).

General consensus: Ebert and Berardinelli each gave it three stars. The director was nominated for the Grand Prize at Sundance, and won a special Jury Prize at Montreal. I place it a hair lower because of the irrelevant details which slow the already actionless movie to a crawl. For example, they spend a lot of time focusing on the missing daughter whose room he rents, but that seems to have no purpose. You keep expecting something to come of it, but nothing ever does. I suppose a rating of three stars or more is a recommendation, and two or less is a pan, so I'd probably give it two and a half if I did ratings. It has great strengths. But it has great flaws, the greatest of which is the pacing, which moves forward about as fast as trench warfare. On the other hand, I give four stars to the trailer.

IMDB summary: 6.1 out of 10. Pretty high for an indie. It seems to me that this is rating is about right.

DVD info from Amazon.

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