Chew the scenery
God damn it, when is somebody going to ban gum chewing in movies? I’m a card-carrying, unabashed Keanu Reeves fan, but he started the whole “Gum-Chewing Action Star” thing with Speed, and it’s become such a visually distracting, cheap acting trick.
Knock it off, Hollywood actors! You will never surpass the gum-chewing prowess immortalized by Reeves in Speed. He is, always has been, and shall remain the gum-chewing action guy king!
The culprit this time out is Casey Affleck in Triple 9, the latest from super reliable director John Hillcoat. Affleck plays Chris, a new cop in a fleet of bad cops who distinguishes himself by, you guessed it, chewing gum a lot.
He doesn’t just chew that shit, either. Oh, no. He cracks it, he pops it, he moves it all over his mouth and lets the white wad stick out of the corners, and he makes sure it gets in the way of nearly every line delivery and nearly every shot in the movie.
If I should ever get to helm an action cop movie, what with my budding film career and all, I’m going for the gum-chewing title. I will make sure to have my action cop guy constantly unwrapping pieces of gum and shoving them into his pie hole. I won’t stop at Wrigley’s either. Nope, I’ll get some Big Red in there, adding to the color palette. We’ll get some Bubble Yum and Bazooka for bigger, longer lasting bubbles. It’s going to make my action star so freaking tough looking.
OK, so the actual movie is pretty good. Like the usual Hillcoat movies (The Road, The Proposition, Lawless), it’s a dark film with a bleak outlook on humanity. Nobody is happy in this flick, and they are going to let you know that for sure. Only this time, there’s a whole lot of gum chewing and some fast moving, impressive action scenes to go with all of the brooding.
All right, back on point. Affleck’s Chris finds himself rolling with Marcus (Anthony Mackie, a.k.a. the Falcon!), a bad cop running with a crew doing heists for a crime kingpin (Kate Winslet, a.k.a. Rose, sporting yet another weird accent). That crew includes Russell (Norman Reedus, a.k.a. Daryl!), his brother Gabe (Aaron Paul, a.k.a. Jesse Pinkman!), explosives expert Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor, a.k.a. the guy from 12 Years a Slave!), and dirty cop Franco (Clifton Collins Jr., a.k.a. the guy who played the murderer in Capote and one of the Vegan Police in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World!).
The heists themselves are nicely staged, reminiscent of the epic Michael Mann heists in Heat. They make up for the fact that the plot isn’t much. In fact, it’s almost non-existent. Still, that’s a pretty impressive acting crew running around shooting at each other, and Hillcoat makes it all look good.
Affleck isn’t the only one resorting to gimmickry in this film. Woody Harrelson (a.k.a. Woody!) wears some pretty wacky teeth and smokes a lot of dope as Jeffrey, Chris’s detective brother. Or, at least, I think they are fake teeth. Woody, if those are your actual teeth, I’m totally sorry, bro. As for the weed, that stuff was probably authentic.
I guess my harping on the gimmickry of gum chewing is to point out that Affleck doesn’t need that kind of bullshit. He’s a commanding actor, and his characterization of Chris is impressive and memorable enough without all the popping and cracking. It doesn’t make his character any tougher or hard-nosed. It just makes him sloppy. And it also left me concerned that he might get lockjaw.
The cast does well for the most part, although Paul is saddled with a dopey haircut (another gimmick), and Reedus is sorely lacking a crossbow (a gimmick avoided). There’s a bit involving a Ejiofor and a giftwrapped package that you will see coming a mile away, but Ejiofor sells it fine.
Triple 9 is a decent enough action thriller, and it should’ve been sponsored by Refresh Triple Mint Chiclets bubble gum! I do see the irony of constantly leaning on the gimmickry of gum chewing in a movie as a writing gimmick in and of itself. I’ll stop now.