Producers: Tara L. Craig, Barry Meyerowitz, Jeff Sackman and Larry Greenberg   Director: Neil LaBute   Screenplay: Neil LaBute   Cast: Diane Kruger, Ray Nicholson, Hank Azaria, Gia Crovatin, Chase Sui Wonders, Keilyn Durrell James, Frederick Weller, Pamela Jayne Morgan, Victor Slezak, Frank Ridley and Yousef Abu-Taleb   Distributor: Quiver Distribution

Grade: C

Playwright/filmmaker Neil LaBute’s first feature in five years takes pains to proclaim itself as a homage to great films noir—or if you’re in a bad mood, a parody of them.  Not only does its title echo that of one of the best, “Out of the Past,” but the script prominently mentions James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” which was the basis for another.  As if that weren’t enough, “Out of the Blue” includes a clip from “Double Indemnity” and another of hardboiled dialogue delivered by Humphrey Bogart, among other bits of old black-and-white celluloid.

But that’s not enough to keep the movie from joining the ranks of the B-movie film noir knockoffs that proliferated in the forties and fifties.  Some of them were excellent, of course, but most fell into the mediocre middle—and so does this.

The plot is the old chestnut about the naïve loser who falls for a classy dame and is enticed into killing her wealthy husband—the same scenario that fueled Lawrence Kasdan’s “Body Heat” back in 1981, but here done on a much more subdued scale and with far less smoldering.

The hapless hero is Connor (Ray Nicholson), a young ex-con who spent three years in the slammer for shoving a guy who hit his head on a slab of concrete.  He seems a likable enough schmo, but he’s harassed by his sometimes supportive but more often abusive parole office Jock (Hank Azaria), who actually wears a jacket with “Probation” written on the back, and by a local deputy (Frederick Weller), whose antipathy toward him seems positively homicidal and who suspects he’s behind a recent raft of burglaries.  

Connor is working as a librarian in the small town of Twin Oaks, Rhode Island.  He’s passionate about jogging, and on a run to the beach he witnesses sultry Marilyn Chambers (Diane Kruger) emerging out of the blue waves in her clingy red bathing suit.  They have a quick moment before she goes off, but he’s obviously smitten despite the fact that his co-worker Kim (Gia Crovatin) is clearly infatuated with him and far more age-appropriate, though she does wear glasses and sensible clothes.

To make a long story short, Connor falls hard for Marilyn, and they get involved in a passionate affair after she makes out with him in the library reading room.  He also learns that her husband Richard (Victor Slezak) is abusive, not only to her but to her stepdaughter Astrid (Chase Sui Wonders).  Marilyn has tried to protect Astrid even though the girl’s dating Jerad (Keilyn Darrell Jones), whom Connor and Kim both know to be a pretty skeezy guy.

Connor eventually hatches a plot to kill Marilyn’s husband while she and Astrid are away on a trip to Boston.  When he sneaks into the house wearing a mask, however, things go off track when he discovers that he and Richard aren’t alone there.  There follows a twisty last act that once might have been surprising were it not for all those other films noir, not to mention Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap.”

LaBute lays all this out rather limply, collaborating with cinematographer Walt Lloyd and editor Kathryn Schubert to stage the scenes with semi-comic solemnity (whether the humor was intended or not) while employing such a plethora of inane chronological inter-titles that the result is to turn the movie into the cinematic equivalent of James Patterson’s thrillers, with their short, punchy chapters.  And while Kruger is a reasonable facsimile of the classic femme fatale, Jack’s son Ray makes a pallid central dope.  These sorts of fellows are always in over their heads in such pulpy tales, but it would take a better actor to make Connor’s big final scene remotely credible even as a comic set-piece.  Azaria, however, is like a force of nature, bringing a welcome degree of energy to the proceedings, as in his opening appearance in a diner, where he’s nasty not only to Connor but to two locals at the counter.  (His later, more avuncular moments are far less interesting.)

On the technical side, the locations are nice without even becoming postcard lush in Lloyd’s camerawork, and Megan Elizabeth Bell’s production design features some nice interiors; one could only wish all old libraries were so pleasantly appointed.  Adam Bosarge’s score is fine but unexceptional.

It’s not entirely clear what LaBute intended here, but merely repeating the tropes of film noir in a flat, dispiriting style makes for neither a successful homage nor a clever send-up.