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The Merry Gentleman

There’s only one scene in The Merry Gentleman where star and director Michael Keaton operates with the quietly tense, witty and recessive authority he used to employ in films like Batman. Keaton’s Frank Logan encounters a police detective (Tom Bastounes) at the expensive menswear shop where he works and, almost immediately aware that he’s being reconnoitered, responds with a dry, knowing reticence.

Logan is the fulcral character in this initially intriguing, ultimately frustrating and disappointing film, but much of the time he isn’t on screen. Even when he is, he doesn’t really seem to be fully there. The Merry Gentleman (as in “God rest ye…”) is studiedly subdued, even repressed, like much of Keaton’s performance.

Logan is an underworld assassin whose increasingly desperate double-existence intersects shockingly with the life of a young woman one night not long before Christmas. Kate (Kelly Macdonald) is a fugitive of sorts from her own life and the movie posits a tentatively redemptive, if doomful, romance.

The film fashioned on this patently artificial premise goes out of its way to avoid emotional buildups and melodramatic intensity. It comes off as an arty, noirish B-movie, obviously but hollowly ambitious.

Much of the problem may not have originated with Keaton, whose directing debut this is. He was pressed into the job when the script’s author, Ron Lazzeretti, who intended to direct, fell ill. Judging by the results, he was hobbled by the inflated but underwritten script. It’s hard to assess how much latitude he had to improve things, given that co-star Bastounes also runs the Chicago company that produced it.

And yet, it’s annoying and a little distressing to sit through the film because Keaton—who was one of the most interesting leading actors to surface in 1980s Hollywood—shows some real skill and insight. The gloomy atmospherics, the flow of action within scenes, and the performance by Macdonald are good enough to make you wonder what he might have done with a better property.

The pity is that, in view of his age and the lack of exposure he’s going to get from this movie, he’ll probably not get an opportunity to show us.

george sax

Watch the trailer for The Merry Gentleman

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