Disjointed, Dull David O. Russell Period Comedy Wastes Talented Cast

For quite some time now, David O. Russell has been the problematic uncle of the industry family, certain to entertain and disturb in equal measure, depending on what one is willing to overlook when making the sausage (or even, given some reports, when not at the factory).

The fact that the Oscar-nominated writer-director is back in action with adventure comedy ‘Amsterdam’ after a seven-year hiatus (since 2015’s ‘Joy’ indicates a willingness in Hollywood to endure the encores of his behavioral issues and betting on the recipe for star power, emotional intelligence and provocative pranksters that forged “Flirting with Disaster”, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle”.

Only the first ingredient is prominent with “Amsterdam”, however, and no powerhouse of Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Zoe Saldana, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek or Robert De Niro – or even an A-list B -team of Taylor Swift, Chris Rock, Andrea Riseborough, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola, Mike Myers and Michael Shannon – can lift this flat, non-funny fluid genre stuff from its performative stumble into contemporary relevance.

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At first, when you are in New York in 1933, you sense an image of an eccentric buddy in the making, centered on themes of integration and the treatment of veterans. Bale’s character (and semi-narrator) is Burt Berendsen, a scruffy, half-Catholic/half-Jewish doctor focused on new drugs for wounded Great War soldiers like himself (he lost an eye) and estranged of his conscious Park Avenue wife. (Riseborough).

Responding to a call from his lawyer friend Harold (Washington), a fellow veterinarian, the couple are brought to elucidate the mysterious death of a respected general (Ed Begley Jr.) who was to speak at the event planned for the veterans meeting. The General’s classy daughter (Swift, also describing her appearance) suspects foul play, which unfolds when Burt and Harold find themselves the framed target of a criminal investigation by two detectives (Schoenaerts and Nivola).

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But then we return to 1918 Europe and a bloody but jovial bro-and-ro-mance about healing and freedom detailing the origins of Burt and Harold’s friendship in a French army hospital, and their bond with attentive and seductive nurse Valerie (Robbie) to live a life of art, invention and love in bohemian Amsterdam. We also meet a pair of bird-watching Allied spymasters (Myers the Briton and Shannon the Yank), and the enforced quirkiness, chaotic style and poor chemistry – especially between Washington and Robbie – seem a more pressing concern than whether a coherent story is told.

Character overload and plot convolution reach critical levels in 1933. Malek and Taylor-Joy appear as a wealthy couple with an intense interest in helping Burt and Harold’s investigation, and De Niro emerges in old fashion ( which he wears well) as a decorated general who may be the key to exposing an infamous conspiracy.

But at this point, the swerve to a time-delayed thriller with a nasty reveal feels like poor prosthetic work on a touch patient; Russell’s awkward message calling for peacetime diligence in a divided world regarding the nexus between power, money and influence plays like an underlined afterthought scribbled in the margins of a script that wasn’t anyway not used. Learning, at the start of the end credits, that De Niro’s character is based on a real military figure of some historical consequence between the wars does little to reconfigure in our minds the boring mess that just ended. .

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Russell’s Sturges-inspired brand of madness has always been an act of energy and tone, but “Amsterdam” doesn’t even sound like a dud “I Heart Huckabees” or “Joy.” It’s sloppy and disconnected, stuffed full of finely drawn characters acting like 30s madmen as Russell’s undocked camera and jarring editing force the issue instead of capturing something authentic that, even with a cast of game, was clearly not there to begin with. However, Bale’s eccentric Pacino-doing-Columbo shtick has its moments, and he and Saldana’s flintlock autopsy nurse share a few moments of vulnerability hinting that a more focused narrative would have served this game better.

Russell’s naive drift also extends into technical areas, as this is perhaps the worst film of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s legendary career – the past rendered with relentlessly flat grey-brown paper. that dulls the senses and creates visual sameness across continents, decorator Judy Becker’s carefully authentic settings and interiors.

When he’s firing on all cylinders, Russell can throw a welcoming and wonderfully tense party, and he clearly wanted the same “Amsterdam” vibe as he tries to value friendship and love while pointing the finger at a whole host of of social ills. Instead, each scene feels like a rambling improvisation hastily put together after audience members shout things like “Glass eye!” “Veterans!” “The New York of the 1930s!” “Taylor Swift!” “Fascism!”

“Amsterdam” opens in U.S. theaters October 7 via 20th Century Studios.

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