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Click for full sized poster

The Dancer Upstairs

Starring Javier Bardem and Laura Morante
Screenplay by Nicholas Shakespeare
Based on his novel
Directed by John Malkovich
website: www.foxsearchlight.com

IN SHORT: A great example of an adaptation that screams "I was an intricately layered book so here's bits and pieces of all of me!". [Rated R for strong violence, and for language. 135 minutes]

As always, we make no comparison to Source Material. That being said, we can also tell when that source novel is probably one big honker of a book. It's usually because the adaptation (in this case by the novel's author Nicholas Shakespeare) is so unwieldy that it is almost impossible to make sense out of any of the subtext. Dancing With Angels is an intricately layered tale of murder and mystery and the possibility of a Communist overthrow of a South American country by a mysterious leader called Ezequiel. On that level alone, Dancing With Angels is a deliberate and slow paced sit, needing time to introduce the principal characters and establishing the utter randomness of the violence presaging the (allegedly) forthcoming revolution. That slowness is death.

In the city, controlled by the military who seem to allow as much "normalcy" as possible in such situations, life has been quiet. There are reports of random violence out in the country but nothing strikes home as hard as the sight of a dynamite stuffed dead dog hanging from a light pole. A sign pledges the coming of a new president, Ezekiel. Violence against animals escalates into all sorts of other things PETA wouldn't approve of and then kidlets and car bombs join the battle. Assigned to investigate and solve the mystery before the military decides to bring the troops back in is detective Augustin Rejas (Javier Bardem).

Balancing the political is the Rejas' home life. His wife seems to yearn for a career in whatever will pass for South American infomercials or Tupperware or Avon shows. His young daughter Laura takes dancing lessons from the young and attractive Yolanda (Laura Morante) who Rejas finds mysteriously attractive. Flip a coin on where that can go. Still, for all, life in the big city is a step up from five years earlier, when Rejas was manning an ID checkpoint out in the boonies.

The paucity of evidence and slowness of investigation force the military to take over the investigation, but not before Rejas can slip a found notebook into his pocket. On one of its pages is a list of magazines and a set of numbers. Logically, his team starts following the model on the covers of the magazines -- be very glad that we're telling you this -- and one thing leads to another. We're not going to explain the frequent blackouts and the fireworks and various other layers and hints buried in the story. Those we found to be clearly explained.

Our problem with The Dancer Upstairs isn't that certain suspects or bits of evidence or leads come from the slimmest of connections, which they do; it's that many suspects and bits and leads pop into the story from beyond nowhere and then quickly return from whence they came. It may be that, in real life, a detective pulls the pieces of a case together from scattered leads that have no interaction. At the pace helmer John Malkovich reels it out, no suspense is built up. You can see the ending an hour away. If you can follow all the clues and aren't thrown by pop up characters.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Dancer Upstairs, he would have paid . . .

$3.00

Rent it at the cheapest time of the week. Truth of our life in the reviewing game is that, once a screening is done, reviewers never discuss their impressions with the other reviewers, lest (our) reports become tinged and corrupt. After screening The Dancer Upstairs the elevator down was filled with a cacophony of questions as to who was who and why they were important, or not. Just being able to follow the main investigation isn't worth the sit.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.