Reviews

Chaos

This film's attempts at clever misdirection are by the book and glaringly obvious. There is nothing remotely "chaotic" about anything that happens.


Chaos

Director: Tony Giglio
Cast: Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Ryan Phillipe, Henry Czerny, Justine Waddell
Distributor: Lionsgate
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2008-02-19

The chaos referenced in the title of this 2005 policier isn't exactly the kind you're expecting. I mean sure, there's plenty of mayhem and confusion -- bullets flying fast and free, stuff blowing up, hectic chase scenes and gimmicky switcheroos -- but Chaos has bigger fish to fry here, apparently. See, believe it or not, the chaos referred to here is actual mathematical chaos theory.

I mean, to be sure, all the beauty and complexity of the theory is simplified and shoehorned into the plot with little if any grace, but hey, how often do you see chief chaos theorist Charles Lorenz and subsequent popularizer James Gleick referenced in a police procedural? Exactly. Gratuitous and pretentious? Sure, but it is a unique spin on the genre, I'll give it that. Of course, that it's a unique idea doesn't exactly mean that it's a good idea, or that it's successful, or even really necessary.

First sussed out by rookie detective Decker (Ryan Phillipe) during a hostage standoff at a bank while listening to the chief baddie (here it is) Lorenz’s (Wesley Snipes) exchanges with disgraced rogue cop Connors (Jason Statham), the explanation of chaos theory that emerges throughout the film is reductive at best, erroneous at worst. The film reduces a complex theorem down to something to the effect of "patterns emerging out of random disconnected events", which I think is supposed to impart some greater depth and complexity to the not all that elaborate plot of Snipes and his henchmen. I think it's also supposed to obfuscate and misdirect the viewer, tricking you into thinking that there is something there that you are missing, when really, it's all there right in front of you, obvious and unsubtle and matter of fact.

Alas Chaos itself, adhering strictly to genre conventions done over and over again in film and television, is about as plainly predictable and rote as it gets. Even its attempts at clever misdirection are by the book and glaringly obvious. There is nothing remotely "chaotic" about anything that happens. Everything that transpires -- from the initial bank heist, through all the twists and turns of the investigation, down to the final stand off -- is strictly standard issue. It got to the point where I had the whole thing pretty much figured out after the first 20 minutes, and could map out the progress of the film the rest of the way point for point, and was even anticipating dialogue verbatim after about 40 minutes.

And the thing is, Chaos doesn't need this cheap crutch, what is little more than a superficial gimmick to make it stand out from the pack. Sometimes you don't need to go out of your way to set yourself apart, sometimes it is okay to just be exactly what you are supposed to be. And the film, when it isn't mired in its pseudo-mathematical gobbledygook, is a perfectly serviceable police procedural/action film.

Starting off with a tense and intriguing bank heist (recalling Spike Lee's Inside Man, which Chaos actually predates in production, though not in release date), Chaos bounces along at a nice quick clip, hitting the right balance between well choreographed action set pieces (an excellent high speed chase between a surprisingly fleet pick up truck and a Harley stands out) and straight up investigation. The plot, however standard, is enough to hook genre fans, without all the mumbo jumbo. And if totally predictable, the ultimate conclusion (complete with overly chatty villain who just has to explain it all, just in case we missed anything) is mostly satisfying and avoids the sort of cheap cop-out that so often plagues these type of films.

So maybe I’m being a bit unfair picking on the film over such a picayune point. If the rest of the film works relatively well, shouldn’t I let this one little hiccup slide? Should it really get in the way, should it really distract that much, to the point of it blotting out the rest of the film? But if writer/director Tony Giglio thought it so important and integral that a) he made an especial point of spelling out his version of “chaos theory” several times over throughout the course of the film (having characters pull out textbooks and all) and b) named the damn film after it, shouldn’t I take it just as seriously?

I like Chaos, I really do – it’s a hard luck film, which seems to have never found a true home (it never got a theatrical release Stateside), has been collecting dust on a shelf somewhere for a few years, and is just now being dumped out on DVD, just to collect more dust. But I just can't get around the patently ridiculous absurdity of the inclusion of bowdlerized mathematics to explain something which needs no such explanation.

I thought at least the presence of Jason Statham would be enough to overcome this nonsense, mostly because he's made a career of single handedly turning absolutely nonsensical films (the deliriously exhilarating and totally gonzo Crank, or the just as over the top Transporter films) into highly enjoyable action pulp. And he is almost enough. But the stupid math, it keeps getting in the way, distracting and detracting from really enjoying the simple pleasures of what is, or should be, a simple film.

Chaos’ DVD release is accompanied by a small feature comprised mostly of interviews with the director, Tony Giglio, and Wesley Snipes, the latter spending a good amount of time talking about Blade 3 instead of Chaos for some reason. The commentary by Giglio is intriguing at first, but soon becomes repetitive and tediously predictable (much like the dialogue in the film itself).

Giglio talks a lot about his inspirations and intentions, saying how he was trying to make a film that hewed close to the spirit and style to the great policiers of the 1970s, in particular The French Connection, Bullit and Dog Day Afternoon. And maybe some of these influences do bleed into Chaos – it doesn’t ever feel like a film of the 2000s, it’s a bit quaint almost (this is not a bad thing), but at least it never slides into hip self-conscious hyperaware homage.

Which isn’t to say that Giglio doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. Unfortunately, he’s almost too aware exactly the film he’s trying to make, of all the genre conventions, and audience expectations, and he seems to have written the film from the “'70s cop movie” template. He’s emphatic that he needed to have the “grizzled rogue cop paired with naïve rookie cop” dynamic going on, along with the “arrogant, jerk of a chief” and the “villain who is more than he seems”.

He also goes to great pains to point out all the little tricks and misdirection he used to obfuscate and distract from what’s really going on (none of which work, of course, except to make the ultimate revelation all the more obvious), like he’s not really convinced himself. He’s almost apologetic, like he knows, watching the film back now, how transparent it all is, and how he isn’t quite as clever as he probably thought he was at the time.

Which, given that three years have elapsed between when he finished shooting and when he recorded the commentary, perhaps speaks well for Giglio’s development as a writer/director. I commend his genuineness and honesty, if that’s what it is – we so little ever hear directors admitting their mistakes.

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