Starting off as a delightful homage to the Rock Hudson/Doris Day comedies of the 60’s, ‘Down’ sadly heads too far in that direction as it can’t decide whether it wants to be a positive-minded satire or simply a redo of the formula forty years on.
A few years back Director Peyton Reed surprised a lot of people with his debut effort “Bring it On”, the cheerleader teen comedy which many were prepared to initially write-off. Yet it caught everyone by surprise when it turned out to be a fast paced and witty piece full of energy and a wicked sense of humour which was kept up throughout. Now in his follow-up movie, its obvious Reed has a love for this specific genre and in clever detail replicates that whole type of 60’s movie making from not just the wild clothes and looks of the era, but the filmmaking employed with editing techniques and elaborate but ‘fake around the edges’ style sets.
No-one could put down the production people on this with the costumes, cinematography, production design and music striking the perfect balance between dynamic asthetic and that sort of ‘better than reality’ glamorous reality that the era’s movies always portrayed Manhattan as (there’s no sign of a ghetto or hookers in this NYC). Yet with such minute attention to detail, there wasn’t as much concentration spent on developing the script.
As a result not only is there a lack of a strong drive or direction about what to do, but attempts at old-fashioned ‘high jinks’ style humour rarely work. Last year’s “Far from Heaven” cleverly applied modern day thinking and issues to a 50’s setting in such a way it both honored and deconstructed the Douglas Sirk films. ‘Down’ does no such clever breakdown, and in fact with the exception of some over the top double entendres (incl. one admittedly fun trick involving split screen) this may as well have been written in the 60’s complete with the flaws and stuttered pacing that modern audiences don’t click to anymore. If there’d been a strong enough story to hold it up, that’s fine but there simply isn’t.
The cast aren’t to blame – all the actors from McGregor, Zellweger, Pierce, etc. all have fun and play their characters well (esp. Pierce) although sabotaging things right from the get go is the sad fact Ewan and Renee just don’t have chemistry which makes the melodrama much harder to swallow even as things go into wilder and wilder directions.
Indeed with 15 minutes to go before the end there’s one of the longest one-take on-screen monologues you’ll probably ever see and its so silly that even fans of the old movies will groan. At 100 minutes it feels overly long which is a shame, a lot of it is due to the fact that during the first 30-40 minutes the whole concept and ‘setup’ of the piece is clever and a fun ride but once Ewan’s impersonation of a Texan astronaut begins its downhill from there as the humour vanishes and a soppy romancer takes hold but one that despite its wild visual appeal actually lacks the life and spark of the very films its honouring.