*/**** Image A- Sound B+
starring Kevin Spacey, Linda Fiorentino, Peter Mullan, Stephen Dillane
screenplay by Gerard Stembridge
directed by Thaddeus O'Sullivan
by Walter Chaw Completed about a year after John Boorman's infinitely superior The General, Thaddeus O'Sullivan's Ordinary Decent Criminal is a sporadic "fictionalizing" of the life of Irish crime boss Martin Cahill that dresses up Cahill's exploits with slick visuals while attempting the unsavory task of doing exactly what The General was accused of doing: making urban terrorism and torture whimsical caper fare. Recasting Cahill as a Keyser Soze with a sense of oily humor and renaming him Michael Lynch (Kevin Spacey), Ordinary Decent Criminal is extraordinarily lightweight blather free entirely of the sense of scale and place of Boorman's film. The General is fantastic, Ordinary Decent Criminal: just fatuous.
Covering roughly the same period and events as The General, Lynch drives around Dublin robbing banks and bribing judges while doing a less interesting job of it than Cahill, who had the wit to crucify someone to a pool table (instead of slamming their hand in a car door) and whose car bombs were weapons rather than warnings. Devolving around the midway point with a Keystone Cops chase and brazenly disinteresting art heist, the picture is essentially just a series of badly timed, badly filmed criminal larks that are enough to have Jules Dassin rolling around in his grave.
Bumbling cops and cowardly judiciary the probable reasons behind changing the names (a "Dragnet"-ian protecting the innocent one supposes), what's unforgivable is the parsing of vital passages in the gangster's life, including his marriage to sisters (one played in a husky brogue by Linda Fiorentino, the other by Helen Baxendale), and his status (and reasons for such) as a Pablo Escobar-ian hero among the working class. Pumped up with a rollicking soundtrack (that includes Jane's Addiction, no less) that unsuccessfully subs for vitality and immediacy, Ordinary Decent Criminal is a painfully ordinary, somewhat decent movie that distinguishes itself by occurring in Spacey's career just prior to his losing his mind.
The pivotal scene of the film, then, becomes one in which Spacey's Lynch imagines himself as Christ in Caravaggio's "The Taking of Christ"--highlighting not so much the crime lord's messianic bent, but the actor's. It's a martyred-teacher pose struck in each of Spacey's post-American Beauty roles (The Shipping News, Pay It Forward, K-Pax, The Life of David Gale), mostly in the form of ham-fisted chunks of ultra-liberal bullshit, though sometimes explicitly. Always shameless, it's at the least passable in Ordinary Decent Criminal as perhaps a part of the character and not entirely indicative of Spacey's faith in his own healing touch. I'm still struggling, however, for a justification of Spacey's leprechaun accent and the top-billing of Colin Farrell who, as one of Lynch's faceless thugs, betrays the roots of his Bullseye character but little else over the course of what amounts to a five-minute cameo.
Released by Miramax and Buena Vista to DVD after a few years on a shelf somewhere, Ordinary Decent Criminal features a nice 2.35:1 anamorphic video transfer that looks surprisingly grainy during one nighttime sequence but is otherwise sharp and pleasing. A Dolby 5.1 audio mix has little to do, though the car chase following the Caravaggio heist features moments of lively rear channel "revving." Not much atmosphere to test the system, in other words, but no real complaints in any other way. Rounding out the sparse disc are trailers for Office Killer, The Shipping News, The Grifters, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown. Originally published: February 24, 2003.