12/24/09

While She Was Out (2008): Kim Basinger's Thrilling Christmas Eve!

Welcome back everyone for one last Christmas themed film before the holiday. Now as all you loyal Lair-ers About know, Thursday is usually reserved for the Beautiful Ladies of Genre. This week is no exception, but as I am in a Christmas rush like everyone else, I’m afraid this beautiful lady will have to go without the usual banner and fanfare. That’s ok though because she can stand on her own without it. Kim Basinger has long been a personal crush of mine ever since she appeared in Batman as Vicky Vale. I recall having her poster on my wall and getting all doe eyed every time I looked at it. So when I heard about a new title she was in that took place on Christmas Eve, it didn’t take long for me to decide what film I was reviewing today. While She Was Out was produced by Anchor Bay (along with executive producer Guillermo del Toro) in 2008, and it was one of the first titles they released theatrically (granted in a very limited run) in an effortto transition the company from DVD publishers to an actual movie studio. Personally I think they should have shot for a broader release, but maybe I’m tipping my hat a little early here.

It’s Christmas Eve, and after getting her daily dose of intimidation and abuse from her husband, Della (Basinger) has to run out to the mall to get some last minute things and has to park really, really far away. When she sees a car taking up two spaces, she jots down an angry note and leaves it under the wiper. Della gets what she needs, and when she leaves the mall the car is still there, but the note is gone. She gets to her SUV, and before she can leave she's blocked in by the car she left the note on. Getting out, Della is harassed by a group of wanna-be thugs lead by Chuckie (Lucas Haas), but she thinks everything will be okay when a mall cop comes to her rescue. Unfortunately, Chuckie draws a gun on the rent a cop and accidentally shoots him in the head. Della takes off, but the carload of young men are intent on hunting her down to kill the only witness to their crime. She crashes her car, and as she escapes, all she can salvage is a toolbox, and it soon becomes her line of defense… and offense.

While I was really excited about seeing this flick, I kind of had low expectations. It has been out nearly a year and I hadn’t heard a thing about it, and at the time I didn’t know it had been released theatrically. Thinking it would be more of the same direct to DVD garbage that floods the shelves, I assumed that Kim just needed to make some cash and took on a throwaway part. This could not be further from the truth. While While She Was Out, surely has some problems in the script department, Ms. Basinger was clearly giving it her all. This was one of the most honest, raw performances I’ve seen from her in years and years, and I think you would have to go back to her work in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s to find anything comparable. The years have also been very kind to her, and I would go as far as to say that she looks just as good as she did when she played Domino in Never Say Never Again. While Lucas Haas has his place in the movie, this is clearly Kim’s film. It may be overstating to call it career defining, but I hope it will be a turnaround point for her.

First time director Susan Montford, whose only previous credit was as producer of the 2007 over the top action masterpiece Shoot ‘Em Up, adapted the script from a short story by noted science fiction/horror writer Edward Bryant, and my harshest criticism of the film is leveled squarely at the script. It needed a polish to move it away from some of the cliché dialog and scenes that were heavily weighted with armchair psychologist babble. That being said; those same scenes worked as often as they did not. Most of the examples I can point to involve Chuckie (Lucas Haas) and his gang. In 2008, it seems awful silly to have a character pour some beer on the ground for his dead homie, but from the get go, I understood that that’s who this bunch of tools were. They were not really “thugs”. These were four dudes that thought they were tough because they bought into what they heard on rap albums. These are the douches who think they’re as cool as Jay-Z, as hard as Tupac, and as smooth as Peabo Bryson. Ok, maybe the last one wasn’t a good example, but you know what I mean.

Hass really brings this to life with his portrayal of Chuckie. He encapsulates the poseur quite effectively, and, strange as it may sound, Haas also brings to mind a similarly named genre film legend, David Hess. Both his look and manner reminded me of Hess in both Last House on the Left and House on the Edge of the Park, and I could not help but wonder if he derived some inspiration for his character from Hess' work. While Haas' Chuckie never seems as sociopathicaly sadistic as Hess' characters, he definitely has a similar air about him. When he does his monolog waxing poetic about Della’s life, it seemed like it was torn right out of the Hess playbook. The rest of Mr. Haas’ gang are forgettable, and one criticism that’s been leveled at this film was how conveniently multicultural the gang was. It was rather strange that an African American, a Caucasian, an Asian, and a Hispanic just happened to make up the foursome, but in the end the other three were mostly forgettable. They were there for Della to take out, and boy, does she ever.

I bet somewhere deep inside there’s a part of you that wants to see Kim Basinger kill a dude with a tire iron. Maybe you don’t know it. I didn’t, but when it happened, I sure as hell had to run it back to see it again. In one of the strange ironies of the film, the gang of dummies never gets past wanting to kill Della while she has no problem dispatching them one by one. This is not a revenge film. This is a hunt, and unfortunately for the hunters, their prey quickly turns the tables on them. The film remains exciting throughout with only a few moments toward the end getting bogged down. Cinematographer Steve Gainer, who also shot 2008’s Punisher: War Zone, did an excellent job capturing the requisite suspense for the entire running time. After a beginning that is punctuated by a sudden outburst from Della’s asshole husband, the cinematography takes over and keeps the feeling of unease going even as Della is just shopping in the mall. When the chase gets underway, the film moves at a breakneck pace, and I found myself talking to the screen which is something only the best suspense thrillers can elicit from me.

While She Was Out is a film that you would probably cruise by in the video store and never give a second glance. That’s a shame. Even though it is a somewhat flawed film, it performs well as an empowering feminist fantasy, a taut suspense thriller, and classic example of how the shooting style of the film can inform the narrative. In the moment, I had fewer problems with the film than I did in retrospect, but it did almost ruin itself with a sharp turn in the last five seconds of the film. Of course I can’t discuss that without spoiling anything, but I think many of you who see this film will feel the same. Never the less, this is a flick that begs for an audience, and I hope I can do my little part in getting it one. Even though Christmas Eve is going to be past us in just a few hours, While She Was Out doesn’t depend on the holiday so much that you couldn’t watch it anytime of the year. It also serves as a good lesson. If it’s Christmas Eve and you just need wrapping paper as Della did, then just go to the local drug store and pick it up. Also don’t leave notes on other people’s cars no matter how badly they park, you never know who has a gun, and they never know who has a fully loaded toolbox.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Bugg Rating

1 comment:

  1. I have to say that I am super glad that you watched this with me. As you mentioned, I probably would have just passed this by on cover alone. It certainly invoked A tense, edge of your seat feeling, and this added to the overall experience. And, I liked seeing the killings, they were well done all around. 31/2 is a fair and just rating, as well as the review itself. Nice job!

    Oh, yes, and..SHOOT 'EM UP kicks ass!

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