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Simon Goes to the Movies, Episode IV: Inseparable

Why aren't they smoking outside the library? Let's talk for a minute about trailers.

I watch trailers. I know many people who do not watch trailers. The justification I most commonly here for this refusal is that a trailer unfairly influences how you watch a film. I admire the proponents of this abstinence as I, personally, have never been able to exist in a vacuum without having all of the air sucked out of my body and my eyes popping out of their sockets. Although, now that I think about it, it would be difficult to watch trailers if your eyes had been pulled forcibly out of their sockets, so it really makes sense that they wouldn't watch them.

On a slightly less petulant note, it would be fascinating to examine all the things that influence the watching of a film, but as that's not going to happen we are left with the dilemma of whether or not an artist will consider the environment their art will be displayed in. Was Avatar made to be watched while it was immensely hyped[1]?

Regardless, trailers can be misleading. Previously, the biggest example I could come up with was Robin Williams' heavy-handed and shockingly paranoid film Man of the Year. The trailer set it up as a light comedy and the film itself was dark and troubling and not at all what my juvenile mind had expected, which is how someone might describe my sexual experiences at the time[2].

But now there's Inseparable.

The trailer makes it look like a superhero film where one of the heros happens to be Kevin Spacey. There are explosions, there are shirtless people and there is a classically handsome American in what appears to be a film shot entirely in Mandarin. To say I was excited is a bit of an understatement- I was very excited. I mean, Kevin Spacey and China[3], what could go wrong, right?

The first striking thing about the film is that it starts with an extended, over-exposed hand-held shot of two people on a beach wearing white so I think at this point I was mentally preparing for Chariots of Fire meets Three Kings[4]. Then it cuts to a guy about to hang himself! Then there's a crazy burst of sad things happening in quick succession and already I recognized one of the climactic shots from the trailer (a car flipping over) and realized that this film was not going to be the action/thriller I expected.

Our hero, whose name I did not get, is about to slip the noose over his neck when laugh-a-minute Kevin Spacey knocks on the door and interrupts him. The space-man talks him out of suicide and the two become fast friends, in a way that suggests that they are two perfectly contrived characters.

You know what? I was going to take my time revealing this and spoiling the plot for you, but as this is a pretty minor fucking detail in the grand scheme of the movie, Kevin Spacey isn't real. The man character (who I'm going to call Sad McFadden, Sad for short) hallucinates him because that's what all the young Chinese people do these days. They hallucinate Kevin Spacey. Why wouldn't they?

It really begs the question as to why the fuck Kevin Spacey is in the film. Maybe he wanted to be in the original Fight Club but he was deemed too old so he went to China to make a significantly worse (and less obnoxiously quotable[5]) version. I don't know. I'm not him, but you'd figure that he's been around long enough at this point to know when a movie is going to be shit. Did he not read the script?

I have three theories.

First, Kevin Spacey owed the Chinese government a huge amount of money from gambling debts due to a cold streak in a Shanghai casino. I don't know why that seems like a plausible explanation to me, but I figure that's more plausible than him reading the entire script and still signing on.

Two, K-Space was given the script in Mandarin, a language that he does not know, but was too prideful to ask for a translation and so signed on without having read the script.

Three, Space jam wanted to relieve some of the U.S. National Debt and figured this was the best way to go about doing that[6].

Regardless of his reasoning, Space race delivers his lines in an inorganic and turgid manner. The dialogue itself is no gem, whoever wrote the English parts obviously had a command over the English language that only be described as “not having a command over the English language.” Sad McFadden also speaks perfect English, which is unbelievable considering that he is a mid-level company man.

What's sad about the film is that I think it could have been really fucking good.

Imagine if from the beginning Sad had recognized Spatial Awareness as an Oscar-winner but his psychosis prevented him from placing the actor specifically. Then instead of a preposterous superhero subplot, and a really messed-up prologue[7] stuffed into other exposition we could just have some whacky hi-jinks between Lost in Space and Sad McFadden. There could be a great scene where he runs into the non-hallucinated Space Ventura and figures it out, or something. Then it could be about how we're all okay or something[8]?

I guess what I'm trying to cover-up is that I don't know why I finished watching this movie.

I've walked out of the theater twice in my life: once, during Space Jam because I was very young and the Looney Toons getting beat-up scared me, and again during Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. I have never started a movie I have not seen before and not finished it, although I will admit that I could only make it through The Tourist once.

I saw Dredd in theaters. It was miserable. It was resoundingly mediocre and the entire visual aesthetic was something that I found nauseating. After the film I debated with my viewing-partner, Uzelac the cricketer, whether or not it was terrible. He said it was “fun.” I said, somewhat pretentiously, that there were enough good films in the world that we no longer needed to settle for this level of mediocrity. In essence, my argument was that there is now a critical mass of good film available that there is little need to see any film that is not good.

So why did I watch Inseparable? Why did I finish it? I wasn't curious how it ended, as the ending is remarkably predictable and I know that I don't get any bonus points for guessing it halfway through.

I think the easy answer for why I watched it was Kevin Spacey.

If you read his Wikipedia page[9] he is described as a “crooner,” which is a type of person that I imagined was extinct. The same thing that I find so attractive about Frank Sinatra and his ilk, and the thing that's so frustratingly absent in Michael Bublé, is that charisma. It has something to do with being able to use the word dame and not looking like an utter asshole[10].

But that's entirely absent in Inseparable. He lacks all of that cool that he brings to all of his roles, from Verbal Kint to John Doe and, despite the undeserved and overreactive backlash against the film, Lester Burnham. He has an aura, as meaningless as that word is, that he exudes over a film that the makers of Inseparable managed to remove entirely.

Some critics abandon a rating system because they find them useless, as films are never “good” or “bad”. I too have never ascribed a numerical value to films because I don't really understand how a reductive number is anything except vague. But that said, I do think that some films are good and some are bad. Inseparable is bad. It is not worth your time[11].

But even bad films can be instructive. The Last Airbender is instructive in how not to film an action-sequence and how not to plot a movie. TMNT is instructive in how not to relaunch a franchise[12]. But Inseparable instructs two very separate things.

The first is sound mixing. The audio in the film is terribly put together and is constantly distracting. The characters sound like they are dubbed even when they are speaking in their native languages, and the audio levels are so off that basic laws of nature like the Doppler effect appear to have been completely ignored.

The second is maintaining plot lines. Sad McFadden has an attractive boss who corners him. Music that hearkens to “bow-chicka-wow-ow” plays. Then nothing happens regarding that for the rest of the film. Sad's parents die, and that is mentioned once. Mrs. McFadden (who is allegedly an investigative journalist but somehow neither of them make any money so that's a problem) has a series of mood swings[13] which are acknowledged and then abandoned. Kevin Spacey somehow tricks Sad into thinking he won the lottery but Sad doesn't buy anything before that is debunked. But how does it have that power?

Sad hallucinates a barking hair-clip, which is a clear sign that he is insane, but then he doesn't hallucinate anything else extraordinary. Sad blows up a factory and basically assaults a CEO of a company but gets away with it. There is no police action at all.

That is not how you make a film[14]. Maybe that's the ultimate condemnation of Inseparable; it is so bad that it barely resembles a film at all.

Someone[15] pointed out that I only seem to review things that I dislike, so here is a brief review of something I did.

CSA is a made-for-television mockumentary that speculates what the world would be like if the South had won the Civil War[16]. It features humorous parodies of our modern life and shows a dystopian reality that is not that distant from our own. It is far and away the best alternate-history-made-for-television-mockumentary I have ever seen, and succeeds where others failed because you know what? Fuck this. Fuck it all. Go see Man with the Iron Fists and try to convince yourself that it isn't just a better version of Garden State[17].


[1]   No. Avatar though is culturally significant; as in how the fuck did anyone think it was going to be the best film that year? One of my friends suggested that the CGI was less impressive than the current installment of the Transformers series and I literally scoffed at him. Fuck me.

[2]   I was debating removing that joke, because I get that it isn't funny at all but I'm in a weird place right now and maybe it's instructive for how not to write?

[3]   I will freely admit to not being well versed in Chinese film. By Chinese I guess I mean the People's Republic of China, and not specifically Hong Kong, or Taiwan. I was expect light propaganda and was not disappointed.

[4]   That's a free one, Hollywood.

[5]   The first rule of Fight Club is that if you quote Fight Club you are not someone I want to watch movies with.

[6]   I'd like to imagine that this is the explanation for all of those ridiculous commercials, but that is probably because of the Japanese Council of Surrealists that runs the internet. This is a real thing that I honestly believe.

[7]   There is a scene where we are told that Sad McFadden is having marital troubles because his parents died and his wife miscarried. Also maybe he can't get on Google, I don't know what it's like in China.

[8]   That's a free one, Spike Jonze.

[9]   Like you haven't read his Wikipedia page.

[10] Udder Assholes? That's a free one, people who are trying to come up with Barnyard porn parodies.

[11] The implication here is that your time is worth more than mine, but really what it mines is that I am enough of an altruist to watch these films so you don't have to.

[12] See also: The Amazing Spider-Man.

[13] A mood swing is here defined as her yelling at her husband for not going to work and not cleaning up after himself.

[14] Well it is if you're making Killer of Sheep but I don't have a degree in this so I'm not qualified to talk about that.

[15] My mother

[16] War of Northern Aggression, according to J.E. Foster.

[17] A movie with an attractive female lead and an unimpressive writer/director/star that people like mostly because of its soundtrack.

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