Saturday, June 10, 2017

On Netflix: SHIMMER LAKE (2017)

(US - 2017)

Written and directed by Oren Uziel. Cast: Benjamin Walker, Rainn Wilson, Stephanie Sigman, John Michael Higgins, Ron Livingston, Rob Corddry, Wyatt Russell, Adam Pally, Mark Rendall, Matt Landry, Isabel Dove, Angela Vint, Neil Whitely, Julie Khaner. (Unrated, 86 mins)

With screenwriting credits on 22 JUMP STREET and the awful horror spoof FREAKS OF NATURE, one wouldn't think Oren Uziel would make his directing debut by branching out with a Coen Bros. knockoff, but the Netflix Original SHIMMER LAKE isn't bad despite hinging on a gimmicky set-up. Set in the days following a botched bank robbery in a small rural town, SHIMMER LAKE plays in reverse, starting on Friday when everything has fallen apart and ending on Tuesday, the day of the robbery. It's like an arc of the FX series FARGO if showrunner Noah Hawley gave it the MEMENTO treatment (this reverse set-up was also done quite well earlier this year in the little-seen western BRIMSTONE). By the end, it's little more than smoke and mirrors to cover up a story that wouldn't be all that interesting or even remotely clever if told in a straight chronological fashion. Indeed, it often requires clumsy exposition to get the viewer up to speed, as in an early scene taking place on Friday where the sheriff is talking to FBI agents and drops this cumbersome chestnut: "We'll see if it matters when we find Andy's--my brother's--dead body!" If they're looking for Andy and have obviously already been working together, wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that the FBI guys already know that Andy is his brother? Nobody would say that sentence like that unless they were characters in a story being told in reverse.

SHIMMER LAKE opens on Friday, and the first time we meet Andy Sikes (Rainn Wilson), he's hiding in his basement with a duffel bag full of money, pleading with his young daughter Sally (Isabel Dove) not to tell anyone he's there. Up in the kitchen, Andy's clueless wife Martha (Angela Vint) is talking to Sheriff Zeke Sikes (Benjamin Walker of ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER), who's torn between upholding the law and looking out for his brother. As the story plays out, starting on Friday and working back to Tuesday, all of the details are gradually doled out until everything comes together at the beginning. Zeke and devoted, puppy-dog-like deputy Reed (Adam Pally) are forced to work with snide, condescending FBI agents Walker (Ron Livington) and Biltmore (Rob Corddry) to investigate a bank robbery that took place on Tuesday and resulted in Zeke taking a bullet in the shoulder. Andy is a disgraced former county prosecutor who lost his job in a corruption scandal after taking a payoff in a case involving Ed Burton (Wyatt Russell, Kurt's lookalike son with Goldie Hawn), the former star QB and local superstar who became a drug-dealing shitbag after high school. Ed was charged with murder and drug possession in a meth lab explosion at nearby Shimmer Lake that killed his five-year-old son Ed Jr., but Andy happily accepted a bribe to knock it down to manslaughter. Ed was ultimately released from prison after serving just eight months. With both men desperate for cash, Ed and Andy decide to rob the town bank, owned by local businessman Brad Dawkins (John Michael Higgins), who also happens to be the judge in Ed's trial and agreed to go with the absurd reduction in charges only because he's planning a Senate campaign and Ed and his stupid, drug-added buddy Chris (Mark Rendall) have blackmailed the married, family man judge with a videotape showing him in a compromising position with his secret side piece--a young boytoy known around town as "Meth Billy" (Matt Landry).

As Uziel moves the story back one day at a time, pieces will fall into place and some running gags will be established (on Friday, Reed is introduced freaking out over the perceived insult of being forced to sit in the backseat of Zeke's cruiser because he's giving the mailman a ride to work, and the events of Thursday reveal why he's so pissed off about it), and many sides to Ed's long-suffering, still-grieving wife Steph (Stephanie Sigman of MISS BALA and Netflix's NARCOS) will be revealed, along with several twists that make you see previous (future?) events in a different light. Despite the presence of many people known for their comedic skills, SHIMMER LAKE rarely goes for big laughs and instead exhibits the kind of morbid, pitch-black humor seen in the the great Coen Bros. classics like BLOOD SIMPLE and FARGO. In the end, it's pretty minor and slight, but the performances are good, with Wilson doing a good job conveying that distinct sense of Jerry Lundegaard nervous panic, and it has some surprises up its sleeve, even when you concede that the film wouldn't be much were it not for its backtracking Leonard Shelby structure.

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