At several points in newcomer writer-director Matthew Parkhill’s “Dot The I,” the attractive couple played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Natalia Verbeke look at each other after engaging in–shall we say–intimate activity, and giggle in acute embarrassment. It’s a reaction that points to the juvenile mindset of the script, of course, but at least it indicates the sort of attitude they ought to take toward the entire movie. This is the sort of sort of purported romantic thriller that crosses the boundary of implausibility so often and so blatantly that it winds up being absolutely laughable. It’s as absurd–and as wildly over-directed–as Brian De Palma’s worst cinematic mistakes. And that, of course, is saying a lot; just think of “Raising Cain” and “Femme Fatale.”
Verbeke plays Carmen, a gorgeous Madrid dancer who’s relocated to London, where she’s gotten engaged to wealthy, ostensibly caring Barnaby (James D’Arcy). But during the girls’ night out at a French restaurant preceding the nuptials, the maitre d’ suggests that she follow an old Gallic custom and choose one male customer with whom to share a last pre-wedding kiss. She selects Kit (Bernal), a Brazilian expatriate struggling to find acting jobs to cover the back rent his seedy landlord is demanding from him. The smooch is enough to send Carmen wild, and Kit, equally affected, pursues her despite the impending marriage, and it’s not long before she succumbs to his boyish charm. Still, she goes through with the ceremony despite Kit’s efforts to derail it, but almost immediately afterward Barnaby learns of her infidelity and responds with fury.
All of this is only the beginning, of course, since it’s a hard rule that things in “Dot The I” are far from what they seem. It wouldn’t be fair to list all the twists and turns that Parkhill has in store, but they include a long chain of double and triple-crosses involving multiple deceptions, suicide and excessive ambition. Taken together the entire business is meant to be a commentary on the public’s hunger for supposed reality entertainment and the willingness of some people to go to any lengths to satiate it, but by the close the avalanche of improbabilities and ridiculous coincidences is apt to induce a progressively dropping jaw in any but the most tolerant viewer.
The execution offers no compensation. Parkhill cut his teeth in commercials, and he’s brought the flamboyant, aggressive style he employed in them to this project–with a vengeance. The visuals are spruced up with all sorts of inserts and overlays (their presence eventually explained by late-reel plot surprises), and even the more conventional sequences are given a swooning, silken texture by the director and cinematographer Affonso Beato. But the obsession with surface glitz apparently blinded Parkhill to the fact that a shiny look can’t conceal glaring lapses in narrative logic and credibility. It also seems to have led him to give less attention to his actors than any decent director should. Bernal comes off best, using his innate likableness to maintain audience sympathy at even the most hopeless moments; and the Mexican star’s command of English is impressive, too. But this is far from his finest hour. Verbeke is less fortunate, largely because as the role is written, Carmen is a rather a twit. But even she shines beside D’Arcy, whose performance is so arch and overly broad as to be a bad caricature, and Tom Hardy and Charlie Cox engage in equal exaggeration as two slacker buddies of Kit’s. Jon Harris’ busy editing and Javier Navarrette’s eclectic, noisy score are additional aggravating elements.
By the time Parkhill’s convoluted Rubik’s Cube gets to the finish line, you’re likely to agree with what Kit eventually confesses to Carmen: “I knew from the start it was wrong.” Cross “Dot The I” off your viewing list.