I was the perfect audience for this movie. I’ve loved Katharine Isabelle in Being Human and Hannibal; she’s an actress who routinely subverts expectations based off her diminutive stature and friendly small-town waitress good looks to play angry, damaged and dangerous women.
On the surface, her role as Gwen in 88 is another perfect part for the actress known for indie horror franchises like American Mary and Ginger Snaps. And who doesn’t want to see an all-time favorite like Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), in the villainous gangster role? I wasn’t expecting greatness, but I was hoping for fun.
There was hardly any of it, as 88 unfortunately loses all of its goodwill within the first few minutes. Thanks to an opening defining what a fugue state is, we can assume that Gwen is in one. A new persona, a disambiguation from one’s identity, triggered by a dramatic event and accompanied with hallucinations, has fractured from Gwen, throwing herself into a $#*! storm and series of nonsensical events.
Gwen snaps out of the fugue state (or into one?) at a local diner, and before you know it, she’s “accidentally” shot a waitress, has stolen a car, and is on the run from the cops. Gwen’s terrified, has no idea what’s going on, is missing a finger and has no recollection of why gumballs, a hotel key (room…88), and a loaded gun are in her backpack in the first place. Yet she somehow continues to elude the police, who are flimsy placeholders for conflict throughout. 88 snaps back and forth between Gwen and “Flamingo,” her badass (?) peeing in a gas station convenient store alter ego, until both timelines and personalities converge, and the truth emerges.
All we truly know is that Gwen worked for Cyrus (Lloyd), a crime boss collecting stereotypes like Beanie Babies, and tried to get out, along with her lover Aster (Kyle Schmid, another Being Human alum). Instead, Aster’s dead, inspiring the Kill Bill routine, as Gwen/Flamingo embark on revenge: to kill Cyrus.
88 tries way too hard to be cool, with its schizophrenic flashes to Aster and Gwen, blood, spilling milk (SO MUCH MILK; more on that later), shadows, exhaustive red lighting, and the result is a movie that is 88 minutes too long (yes, 88 is 88 minutes long).
The movie throws in insane characters here and there like a student trying to cook a stew for his college girlfriend. There’s Ty (Tim Doiron, the film’s writer), a one-man cop killing machine, who happens to be one of the few characters with any sort of personality, even if it’s obnoxious (“This is gonna be awesome,” he says, in regards to mass murder). He luckily has the same mission as Flamingo/Gwen, to kill Cyrus, and does a helluva lot more to make that happen than Gwen does, certainly. Michael Ironside (Starship Troopers) is a lone bright spot as the town’s sheriff, openly wondering what the hell is going on (“Some of this crap doesn’t make sense”). Speaking of confusion, there’s Lemmy (April Mullen, the film’s director), some wacko taxidermist lady who’s there to supply arms for the kill, I think. She has alternating signs designating “Leisure Time” and “Business Time” in her office that are used to humorous effect, one of the few Don Coscarellian flourishes that worked.
But let’s be honest, Lemmy is there as another excuse for a ridiculous and boring shootout. 88 is filled with laughable shootouts, where either the cops, gangsters or even our heroes learn all ability to hit a target. This is an action movie tradition, of course, but this didn’t feel intentional (and wasn’t ha-ha funny); instead, it sapped credibility from the proceedings, not that there was much to begin with.
In Kill Bill, we’re rooting for Uma Thurman’s Bride. It’s a revenge story with almost as much pizzazz and personality as blood spatter. 88 tries to follow the same blueprint, but it’s a hollow attempt in every way. Cyrus is a one-note villain who isn’t particularly imposing, intelligent, dangerous or interesting. Aster is apparently the love of Gwen’s life, but we never glimpse more than a few seconds at a time with the character, all in annoying flashbacks that we see over and over. It’s hard to get onboard the revenge train if you don’t buy the engine for it, especially when the “heroine” is either a clueless blank slate with no discernible characterization, or worse, a psychopathic killer whose only discernible characterization involves a weird obsession with using shampoo dry and LOVES wasting milk. I lost track of the number of times she orders milks, steals milk, takes a sip and then shatters the bottle/glass on the floor, as 88 substitutes character development with disturbing tics. 88 exists in a town when people still buy milk out of glass, a more intriguing mystery than anything else we’re forced to pretend to care about.
88 is out on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD now.