2 stars out of 4
Somewhere between peeing in a fountain in The Change Up and battling the evil dead in RIPD, Ryan Reynolds lost his way. His comeback is so risky and eccentric that some fans might be wondering if he even knows how to use a map.
Well, how else would characterize a jet-black comedy thriller about a serial killer who banters with talking animals and severed heads?
The movie is called The Voices, which premiered Jan. 19 at the Sundance Film Festival. Consider it the quintessential offbeat effort that appeals to the movie mavens in Park City, Utah -- but in the mainstream, it’s destined for cult classic status at best.
Reynolds is Jerry, a drone who works in the boxing and shipping department at a faucet company in a small, industrial town. Jerry has a happy-go-lucky attitude and is excited to go to the company party because his office crush (Gemma Arterton) will be there. Still, something is off. Maybe it’s because he insists on eating cold pizza in the office conference room and imagines a pepperoni is shaped like a heart. And he’s a little awkward. And as soon as walks into his apartment, he starts chatting with his cat, Mr. Whiskers, and dog Bosco.
In conclusion, Jerry is not well. It runs in his family, and he sees a psychotherapist to get the voices under control. (He refuses to take his medicine). His mental illness is first used for uncomfortable comedy, as Mr. Whiskers, who speaks with a thick Scottish brogue not unlike Shrek, swears at him for not being smoother with that girl in accounting. Bosco has a Southern accent and is more genteel. A full 30 minutes pass before the gimmicky laughs grind to a halt, and the macabre plot sets in.
Jerry’s first murder is incidental. He drives home his crush after the party, gets into a car accident and then kills her in an empty forest. He chops her up into pieces and keeps the female head in his refrigerator. The scene is even grislier than it sounds. In Jerry’s mind, she needs company. He quickly targets another cute coworker (Anna Kendrick) and then mutilates a third. Three female heads, all chirping to him in unison every time Jerry opens up his refrigerator door.
It’s easy to just brush this film off based on its weirdness and abrupt tonal shifts alone. It flails on a much simpler narrative level too. Jerry’s darkness is rooted in his mother’s violent death that led to a stint in an institution, but his therapist rationalizes his behavior as merely a side effect of loneliness. (This point is emphasized with a soulful background music score). And the voices themselves can be analyzed by anyone who took 10th grade psychology: Mr. Whiskers is Jerry’s sinister id, while Bosco is the disapproving superego. Jerry falls somewhere in between.
Reynolds is completely committed to the perverse role, though. Like Mark Wahlberg in Ted, he converses with inanimate objects with heart and an earnest conviction. He still has some work to do before he gets his movie star luster back, but it takes a real actor to pull that off.