A Better Way to Die (October 8/01)
A Better Way to Die is the latest neo-Tarantino crime flick, filled with quirky characters, impossibly bizarre situations and a gaggle of celebrity cameos.
Writer/director Scott Wiper stars as a cop who, in the opening scenes, becomes so disillusioned with his job that he quits. He decides to return home and marry his girlfriend (played by Natasha Henstridge), but he quickly discovers that's not going to be as easy as he might have hoped. His journey becomes a very dangerous one when, through a series of unfortunate decisions, he is eventually mistaken for a missing undercover FBI agent. Before he disappeared, this agent was carrying an important computer chip, so both the bad guys and the good guys now want to get a hold of our hero.
Included in the cast are Andre Braugher, Joe Pantoliano and Lou Diamond Phillips. With an eclectic bunch like this, how can you go wrong? Well, you can - sort of. Wiper's treatment of his own script varies from appropriately humorous to dead serious. And when you've got a film with as many contrivances as this one does (Pantoliano plays a one-armed private investigator who's got a gun stashed up his remaining arm, who basically pops up, gives Wiper some information, and then dies), taking a grim tone at any point isn't just inappropriate, it makes the loopy stuff that came before seem even more out of place.
But the film is consistently entertaining - Wiper keeps the pace quick and the action constant - so it's hard to really complain. However, as the end of the film begins to near, the coincidences really begin to pile up. Without giving anything away, the Wiper character is saved from certain death on more than one occasion by the last character you'd expect. And this same character "fake" dies one time too many.
It's a shame that Wiper made the first half of the film so Tarantino-esque, because the second half really isn't that bad - but by that time, it's difficult to care about anyone. But the few good action sequences and plethora of character actors that pop up make this a worthwhile rental.