THE MINUS MAN Add To My Top 10
Release Date: September 10, 1999
Runtime: 110 minutes
Distributor: Artisan Entertainment
Director: Hampton Fancher
Producer: David Bushell & Fida Attieh
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Owen Wilson was in BOTTLE ROCKET, an exploration of unresolved Generation X angst. (His latest work is THE HAUNTING.) Wilson continues his quest for meaning in life in this movie, but this time as Vann Siegert, a mild mannered, but nevertheless deadly, serial killer. His unique method of execution? An extremely effective poison extracted from a rare fungus found only in the extreme Northwest, which he mixes very efficiently in a little silver flask he leaves around nonchalantly for his victims to partake without warning. Vann has a very valuable asset as well, he is so nondescript in appearance and agreeable in demeanor that he blends in any setting like a perfect chameleon.
Shortly after neatly disposing of one of his most recent victims, Vann is approached by the police for sleeping in a state park and decides he better settle in a nearby small Western town for a while. After looking in the classifieds, he finds a room for rent in the home of Jane (Mercedes Ruehl) and Doug (Brian Cox). This is not your typical middle class couple either. Doug is a masochist who beats himself to a pulp from time to time, and Jane alternately sobs disarmingly over her missing daughter while at other times harshly runs the household like a military academy. Doug takes a liking to Van (as everyone else always does) and gets him a temporary job for the Holiday rush at the local post office. Vann goes to work immediately and thrives, not just at the post office where his enthusiasm and good manners make him the darling of everyone, but also at his favorite pastime, killing unsuspecting folk.
As the body count mounts, suspicions about a possible culprit do also, but of course, who could ever believe Vann might be implicated? Even Ferrin (Janeane Garofalo), a young female coworker who comes on to him with the subtlety of a tornado and quickly befriends him, has no idea as to what makes this guy tick. All along the audience is treated to Vann's thoughts in voice over mode and to an ongoing dialogue he visually carries on in his mind with Blair (Dwight Yoakam) and Graves (Dennis Haysbert), a couple of callous police detectives who know all about him but, rather than arrest him, play a game of philosophical wits with him. It is in this surreal venue that the audience is able to get a glimpse of how a serial killer might think as well as the apparent common subconscious desire to eventually be caught.
Meanwhile, back in the odd household where Vann resides, Doug is having some problems of his own. His own wife Jane has been found dead in her car with a blow to the head, and Doug is a suspect in that killing. In fact, it appears things are heating up all over, and Vann decides maybe it's time to head for a cooler climate.
Based on the novel of the same title by Lew McCreary, THE MINUS MAN should have stayed as such. Excruciatingly slow, THE MINUS MAN ultimately goes nowhere. The few interesting elements, such as the question of what goes on inside the mind of a serial killer and why, or even the inner workings of our postal service, were lost by the flat, ineffective direction and disingenuous screenplay of Hampton Fancher. As a result, many others are losers, such as the director of photography Bobby Bukowski, who is expertly able to deliver the appropriate pedestrian yet disquieting mood of the movie, and cast members Janeane Garofalo, Mercedes Ruehl and Brian Cox whose dramatic efforts in this context may not get the credit they deserve. On the other hand, Owen Wilson may have played his role much too well, so well in fact that, just as the movie itself, he may not be able to shake the minus quality of this disturbing production from his persona for some time to come.