(2020) Neo-Noir Fantasy (Shout!) Tom Burke, Ellie Bamber, Darrell D’Silva, Christopher Fairbank, Siobhan Hewlett, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Julian Bleach, Babou Cesay, Alan Moore, Richard Dillane, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Oaklee Pendergast, Ethan Rouse, Eric Lampaert, Sheila Atim, Bradley John, Robert Goodman, Josie Taylor, Daniel Tuite, Stewart Magrath, Gayle Richardson. Directed by Mitch Jenkins
Alan Moore, the writer/creator of such graphic novel works as The Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Batman: The Killing Joke and From Hell, has often been described variously as curmudgeonly, grumpy, cranky, cross, and outspoken. He certainly hasn’t pulled punches regarding his opinion of cinematic adaptations of his work (he hates them, in case you were wondering). Now, he has decided to write a screenplay of his own, following up on a series of shorts he wrote for director Mitch Jenkins, entitled Show Pieces which act as a kind of prequel to this feature. No, you don’t need to see them in order to enjoy The Show although it wouldn’t hurt.
In any case, Fletcher Dennis (Burke) shows up in Northampton, the town in which Moore grew up and which he regards clearly with some fondness. He is looking for a James Mitchum, discovering that he took a severe fall outside a nightclub and has died of his wounds. Dennis shows up at the local hospital where Mitchum was taken, masquerading as his brother Bob, looking for his effects – specifically a necklace with a gold cross on which a jeweled rose is centered.
Not finding it despite a helpful morgue attendant (Bleach) who intones “I see dead people,” to which Dennis responds “You work in a hospital!” However, Dennis heads to the boarding house Mitchum was staying in and arranges to rent his room from the vivacious landlady Becky (Bamber) who doubles as a walking tour guide of Northampton, where I imagine there isn’t much call for walking tours. He also discovers that a young woman named Faith Harrington (Hewlett) was brought in at the same time as Mitchum and may hold some clue to the mystery of the missing cross.
As he digs into the mystery, aided by Faith, he will run into a drug kingpin named John Conqueror (Atim) who uses voodoo as a marketing tool, a dead comedy team that owned a working class pub that burned to the ground decades earlier, but pops up in their dreams, Dennis’ foul-mouthed client (Fairbank) and a couple of gumshoes named Tim (Pendergast, Rouse) who are likely around ten or eleven years old, operate out of a clubhouse, take payment in energy drinks, and speak noir-esque narration (their scenes are filmed in black and white).
Moore shows up as Frank Metterton, one half of the deceased comic duo whose beard and costume gives his head the shape of a crescent moon, and whose sonorous voice seems to imply more than perhaps he actually delivers. He’s actually pretty good in the role, but his arcane and occasionally obscure sense of humor shows up throughout the movie, making the film a good deal more fun than you might expect. Moore has always been, in some ways, has always cultivated the persona of the outsider, and it serves him well here.
This is not a straightforward noir film, although the genre plainly informs the action and Moore is just as plainly delivering his own version of it. Some of the tropes are skewered with sly wit, others are a bit more overt, but this isn’t a spoof so much as it is an homage. It is also, however, willfully weird, wearing its strangeness as a badge of honor with somewhat skewed camera angles, unsettling visuals and dialogue that makes Wes Anderson look like Michael Bay.
The movie is a little long and it definitely takes its time in getting where its going, but there are rewards to be had here. Fans of Alan Moore will no doubt want to rush and see this and as it is only playing for a single night as a Fathom event (locally, it can be seen at the AMC Altamonte Mall and the AMC Disney Springs) tomorrow (Thursday, August 26th), while others who prefer more straightforward fare might not be in such a hurry to check it out. Nonetheless, I found it entertaining enough so long as you are willing to stay with it and let yourself fall under its spell.
REASONS TO SEE: Willfully weird, but hard to ignore.
REASONS TO AVOID: The pacing needed to have been picked up a bit.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hewlett’s Faith Harrington was the subject of the first of five Show Pieces shorts, three of which have been collected together under that name and are currently available on Shudder.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/25/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Scanner Darkly
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Finding Kendrick Johnson