Tony Scott Turns a Fascinating Story Into Yet Another Things-Go-Boom Movie
Domino Harvey was an unusual figure whose story practically demands screen treatment. Born to actor Laurence Harvey (The Manchurian Candidate) and Vogue model Paulene Stone in 1969 and named after a character from a James Bond novel, the openly gay Domino worked briefly as a model for the prestigious Ford modeling agency before abruptly turning her back on the privileged life to dabble in a series of dangerous careers before settling in as a professional bounty hunter who thoroughly enjoyed her work.
Only a few watered-down versions of those details made their way into Tony Scott’s Domino, which opens with the disclaimer “Based on a true story. Sort of.” It’s Scott’s way of trying to cover his ass while using Harvey as the basis for an over-the-top action thriller. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just unfortunate that he tossed aside a compelling story in favor of bombastic, self-indulgent tripe.
Scott inserts a fictionalized version of Domino (a heterosexual, nunchaku-toting tomboy played with false bravado and unconvincing swagger by Keira Knightley) into a muddled, incoherent plot. The details of her formative years are briefly touched upon before Domino attends a how-to seminar for budding bounty hunters presented by bail bondsman Claremont Williams (Delroy Lindo) and his man-hunting colleagues Ed Moseby (Mickey Rourke, currently on a hot streak and certainly the best thing in this movie) and Choco (Edgar Ramirez). It isn’t long before she’s on the team, brandishing guns bigger than she is, busting down doors, taking down perps, and—in one of the movie’s most tasteless sequences—defusing a Mexican standoff by giving a gangbanger a lap dance.
Williams’ granddaughter by one of his three mistresses—collectively referred to as the “Three Sassy Black Women” and used as very unfunny and condescending comic relief—is ill and in need of an expensive medical procedure when, as fate or lazy plotting would have it, an armored car is robbed under suspicious circumstances and Domino and her boys are charged with recovering the money and the suspects for a $300,000 bounty.
The subsequent ordeal is too convoluted to go into here; it’s suffice to say it involves a crooked casino operator (Dabney Coleman), an Afghan freedom fighter with an explosives fetish, mobsters, federal agents, rogue DMV employees who forge driver’s licenses on the side, and a reality TV show run by a sleazy producer (Christopher Walken) and hosted by Beverly Hills 90210’s Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering (gamely poking fun at themselves in a desperate attempt to extend their 15 minutes of fame). Wackiness ensues, and by the time Tom Waits makes his third-reel cameo as a desert soothsayer, drifting in from the haze in a battered Cadillac convertible like a rumpled mirage, most of you will have given up all hope of understanding exactly what the devil is supposed to be going on.
Scott will always be a talented but undistinguished director whose filmography is a litany of hit-and-miss features such as True Romance, Days of Thunder, and Top Gun. He did show some promise of reform with last year’s Man on Fire, a taut little revenge thriller that had enough substance to counterbalance the sound and fury. His love affair with excessive jump cuts, whip pans, and other head-pounding extremes has apparently resumed, and as a result Domino feels less like a movie and more like a two-hour car commercial.
What is perhaps most distressing about Domino is that it was written by Richard Kelly, the bright young writer-director behind Donnie Darko. Kelly has voiced the common complaint that the only way he can get the quirky, square-peg features he wants to make into production is to pay his dues in the Hollywood salt mines, and it’s depressing to see such a parasitical exploitation of talent.
The real Domino Harvey was found dead three months ago, from an accidental overdose of the painkiller fentanyl, and the details of her final days suggest she had fallen into the lifestyle of those she so often brought to justice. She had been placed under house arrest after being found in possession of $2 million worth of methamphetamines, and was under investigation by the FBI on charges that included racketeering and drug dealing and facing up to 10 years in prison. It was a sad end to an unlikely tale, the reality of which greatly deflates Scott’s pointless, hollow mess and suggests that there is a much deeper, challenging, and more fascinating movie about Domino Harvey waiting to be made.