(France/US/Denmark - 2016)
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Written by Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws and Polly Stenham. Cast: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Desmond Harrington, Alessandro Nivola, Charles Baker, Jamie Clayton, Stacey Danger. (R, 118 mins)
With his latest film THE NEON DEMON, DRIVE director and cult filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn is aspiring to be the same kind of poking-with-a-stick provocateur as his fellow Danish countryman Lars von Trier. Refn's last film, 2013's hypnotic and hyper-stylized masterpiece ONLY GOD FORGIVES (infamously booed at Cannes, which is essentially a badge of honor, if not the entire endgame to guys like Refn and von Trier) is a key influence here, at least in terms of the throbbing synth score by Cliff Martinez, the obsessive perfectionism of the Kubrickian shot composition, and the red and blue Dario Argento colorgasms. But THE NEON DEMON is Refn's worst film, a huge disappointment that looks like the equivalent of an ONLY GOD FORGIVES B-side, with the visual and aural elements crammed into a puerile, simplistic, and embarrassingly heavy-handed metaphorical allegory that's part supernatural spin on BLACK SWAN and part good vs. evil lecture on whatever it takes to get ahead in the Los Angeles modeling world. One senses around 3/4 of the way through that it's all a goof to amuse Refn, no doubt chuckling to himself thinking about how cineastes will sift through every last bit of faux symbolism and gawk in astonishment at some of the shocking imagery on display. Sure, THE NEON DEMON is the most transgressive summer release to hit mainstream multiplex chains in years, but it feels like lukewarm leftovers otherwise: Refn seems like he's just copying himself, and even the score sounds familiar and uninspired. The busy Martinez--a former drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers back in the Freaky Styley days-- has composed some of the most memorable film music of the last several years, but even he appears to be on autopilot here, with only the sights and sounds of an early club scene hitting the exhilarating, intoxicating heights of DRIVE and ONLY GOD FORGIVES.