'Dom Hemingway' review: Sneer to keep from crying

'Dom Hemingway'

'Dom Hemingway' (April 8, 2014)

** (out of four)

Facing the camera, a woman in front of him on her knees, Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) stares ahead and asks, "Is my c**k exquisite?" An extended, single-take monologue about the wonder of this guy's genitalia follows. It's a hell of a way to start a movie and the beginning of the juiciest character Law ("Side Effects," "I Heart Huckabees") has had in a while.

The question, then, is whether the actor's embrace of both Dom's hungry hedonism and contrived sentimentality is enough to compensate for feeling like "Dom Hemingway" is a movie that never actually starts. Answer: No. Writer-director Richard Shepard (the superior "The Matador") labors to craft a foul-mouthed comedy with a gooey dramatic center, but he skimps on the laughs and the action. Even though it's in your face, the movie needs more.

After his saucy introduction, safecracker extraordinaire Dom ends a 12-year prison sentence and emerges desperate to reconnect with the daughter (Emilia Clarke of "Game of Thrones") he didn't get to see grow up. First, though, he wants his [bleeping] payback. Dom took the fall for a job orchestrated by Fontaine (Oscar nominee Demian Bichir of "A Better Life"), and the sequence of events that takes place at Fontaine's estate shows how a movie can be over the top but not actually fun.

And the lack of guilt Dom feels about a car accident that's entirely his fault indicates the way Shepard seems to pick and choose at random what incidents in the coincidence-heavy "Dom Hemingway" will matter and when Dom will and won't be a stand-up guy. His attitude toward others, including his old pal Dickie (Richard E. Grant), constantly shifts, which might be tolerable if Dom weren't ultimately a clichÈd depiction of a baddie with a soft spot trying to fight through all the muck.

The muck works better: Law devours the chance to turn Dom loose, including the rare act of making James Taylor lyrics a bitter, bile-spewing plea for reimbursement. Still, then, he seems only like a movie character yelling, making it tough to buy it or care when his anger turns to tears.

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mpais@tribune.com

 

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