Tom DiCillo’s films straddle the gap between commercial Hollywood movies and arthouse cinema. Fiercely independent, he has had to struggle to get every one of his movies made, from his debut, the Sundance smash and Brad Pitt launch-pad Johnny Suede (1991), to his latest genre-defying cop-comedy-drama, Double Whammy.
As Double Whammy opens, a Rambo-type rams his jeep into a fast food restaurant and starts gleefully shooting the diners as they stuff their face with burgers. Ray Pluto (Denis Leary) is a cop in the right place at the wrong time. His attempt to become the hero is thwarted as he suffers a painful back spasm and collapses, allowing a petrified kid to grab his gun and lay waste to the killer. From hero to zero in one spectacular fall.
Similarly, when his wife and son fell victim to a hit-and-run incident, he was within sprinting distance, but was busy buying a newspaper. This is a potentially tragic state of affairs, but like all Tom DiCillo’s movies, the story is injected with humour throughout – which is the problem. Double Whammy is effectively a drama set adrift in a series of inappropriate comic events.
From here, Pluto sets out to salvage his reputation and takes time off to get his back problem sorted. The film has parallel storylines in which Pluto investigates the attempted murder of his neighbour, Juan (Luis Guzman), and falls into a blossoming love affair with his chiropractor, Dr Ann Beamer (Elizabeth Hurley). Throw in a couple of naive screenwriters looking for accolades through their Tarantino-esque monstrosity, and a partner (Steve Buscemi) with a sexuality crisis, and you’ve got a collection of quirky characters and situations which never quite gel into a cohesive whole.
Leary’s cop takes an exceedingly long time to work out the crime, even though all the evidence is right under his nose. Despite his noirish demeanour, Pluto’s detective skills are more akin to those of the Scooby Doo crew, and Leary plays the macho-incompetent with deadpan style.
Double Whammy is neither here nor there. It’s not inherently unlikeable – indeed it’s a fairly intelligent comedy with solid performances from all of the cast (including, amazingly, Elizabeth Hurley). However, an inherent lack of confidence in the storyline makes for a series of enjoyable scenes, but the overall product sadly falls rather short.