Review: ‘Knox Goes Away,’ starring Michael Keaton, James Marsden, Suzy Nakamura, Joanna Kulig, Ray McKinnon, Lela Loren, Marcia Gay Harden and Al Pacino

March 27, 2024

by Carla Hay

Michael Keaton in “Knox Goes Away” (Photo by Marshall Adams/Saban Films)

“Knox Goes Away”

Directed by Michael Keaton

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the Los Angeles area, the dramatic film “Knox Goes Away” features a predominantly white group of people (with some African American, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: An assassin with dementia agrees to help his estranged adult son, who has murdered a man and wants to cover up the crime.

Culture Audience: “Knox Goes Away” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and noir crime dramas, even if the movie has several plot holes and unanswered questions.

Michael Keaton in “Knox Goes Away” (Photo by Marshall Adams/Saban Films)

“Knox Goes Away” has the benefit of director/star Michael Keaton’s acting talent, but this movie about an assassin with dementia is dragged down by an uneven tone and a nonsensically convoluted screenplay with plot holes. Al Pacino has a completely useless and unnecessary role in the film. Any movie that wastes Pacino’s talent has got a lot of problems.

Directed by Keaton and written by Gregory Poirier, “Knox Goes Away” (which takes place mostly in the Los Angeles area, where the movie was filmed) tells the story of assassin John Knox (played by Keaton), who finds out early on in the story that he has Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is a form of dementia. It’s a neurological disease that progresses quicker than Alzheimer’s disease. John is so paranoid about people finding out about his recent health issues, he travels by plane to San Francisco, where he meets with a medical professional named Dr. Burns (played by Paul Perri), who informs John that John has Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. After getting this diagnosis, John is told that it will be only a matter of weeks before he loses his “normal” memory and cognitive abilities.

John (who is divorced and lives alone) is a hardened hit man who was planning to retire anyway. He now has to make arrangements to stay in an assisted living facility, since he has no family members who can take care of him. He keeps this diagnosis a secret from almost everyone he knows. For the people he does not want to tell, John says that he plans to “go away for a while.” John works for a mysterious boss named Jericho, who is never seen or heard in the movie, but Jericho’s name is mentioned several times. John agrees to do “one last job” before he retires, but he does not want to tell Jericho about this planned retirement.

It’s never stated how many years John has been a hit man, but it’s been long enough that it’s implied that it ruined John’s marriage to his ex-wife Ruby Knox (played by Marcia Gay Harden) and led to years of estrangement from their son Miles Knox (played by James Marsden), who both know about John’s past criminal activities and are aware that he’s still an assassin. John is the type of assassin who does not want to know any personal details about his targets. He frequently works with another assassin named Thomas “Tommy” Muncie (played by Ray McKinnon), who is judgmental about John’s cold detachment from their job. It’s an oddly self-righteous attitude for Thomas to have, considering that Thomas commits brutal murders for money too.

John’s “one last job” turns into a disaster. John and Thomas go to the home of their intended target: a man named Elian Zubiri (played by Edwin Garcia II), whom the assassins expect to be home alone. Thomas and John are surprised to see Elian taking a shower with a female companion, later identified as Annette Elmora (played by Nicole Reddinger), an innocent bystander who gets murdered along with Elian.

Because of John’s diminished cognitive abilites, he accidentally shoots and kills Thomas. John stages the crime scene to make the murders of Elian and Annette look like a murder-suicide committed by Elian. John then flees the scene and takes Thomas’ body with him. John later lies to Jericho by saying that Thomas never showed up for this hit job.

Shortly after that fiasco, Miles shows up unannounced at John’s home one night to confess that he has recently murdered a 32-year-old man named Andrew Palmer (played by Charles Bisset), who impregnated Miles’ 16-year-old daughter Kaylee (played by Morgan Bastin) in a sexual predator situation. Miles has a hand injury from this murder, which was committed by stabbing with a kitchen knife. Miles’ wife Cheryl Knox (played by Lela Loren) doesn’t know about this murder, and neither does anyone else at this point. What follows is a ridiculous plan that didn’t have to be as complex as it is in the movie.

Pacino has the role of John’s shady criminal friend named Xavier Crane, who is one of the few people who knows about John’s dementia. Xavier agrees to help John with a crime cover-up, but this character actually didn’t need to be in the movie at all, if John really wanted to keep his cover-up activities as secret as possible. Pacino just sort of shuffles along and mumbles in the drab and uninteresting role of Xavier.

The only other person who is close to John is a sex worker named Annie (played by Joanna Kulig), who has been meeting up with John for sessions at his home, every Tuesday for nearly four years. John is an avid book reader/collector, so he often lends books to Annie so that she can read them and tell him what she thinks about the books. It’s later mentioned in the movie that when John was in the U.S. Army, his Army buddies gave him the nickname Aristotle, because John is so intellectual and well-read. Annie and John are not in love, but they are fond of each other and have some emotional intimacy.

The “noir” tone of “Knox Goes Away” is often clumsily handled when it tries to inject some comedy, in order to make the investigating homicide police officers look idiotic. The lead investigator is Detective Emily Ikari (played by Suzy Nakamura), a jaded and sarcastic cop who always thinks she’s the smartest person in the room and spews some awkward jokes as a way to assert her authority. Nakamura is a scene stealer and has very good comedic timing, but the context in which she says these jokes are often unrealistic and cringeworthy.

For example, there’s a scene where Detective Ikari and some other cops are at the scene of a murder at the murder victim’s home. The murder victim’s body is still there. A crime scene investigation technician (played by Benita Krista Hall) tells Detective Ikari that the victim’s cell phone is locked and can only be unlocked by using facial recognition. Detective Ikari then makes a snide remark by telling the technician to do the obvious: Put the phone up to the victim’s face to unlock the phone. Making this technician look this stupid is the movie’s cheap and lazy setup to have Detective Ikari crack another “joke,” usually at the expense of a subordinate or co-worker.

“Knox Goes Away” also doesn’t do much to explain why John became an assassin. The main things that are revealed about John’s past are that he has a troubled history as a father; he used to be a deep reconnaissance officer in the U.S. Army; and he spent six years in prison for tax evasion. John is supposed to be highly intelligent (he has doctorate degrees in English literature and U.S. history), but he makes a lot of illogical decisions—and not just because of his dementia. It’s because of a weak screenplay that tries to look like it’s clever, but it’s really a long-winded excuse to show some mindless and muddled scheming that leads to a predictable ending.

Saban Films released “Knox Goes Away” in select U.S. cinemas on March 15, 2024. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on April 5, 2024.

Review: ‘Confess, Fletch,’ starring Jon Hamm

September 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jon Hamm in “Confess, Fletch” (Photo courtesy of Miramax/Paramount Pictures)

“Confess, Fletch”

Directed by Greg Mottola

Some language in Italian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Boston, Rome, and Central America, the comedy film “Confess, Fletch” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In his first night at a rented vacation townhouse in Boston, a freelance journalist finds a murdered woman in the living room, he becomes a prime suspect in her murder, and he annoys the police by trying to solve the murder himself.

Culture Audience: “Confess, Fletch” will appeal mainly to people who are star Jon Hamm and fans of author Gregory Mcdonald’s “Fletch” mystery novel series and murder mystery comedies that have wisecracking characters.

Ayden Mayeri and Roy Wood Jr. in “Confess, Fletch” (Photo courtesy of Miramax/Paramount Pictures)

Thanks to a very talented cast, the comedy film “Confess, Fletch” is an adequately entertaining story that should satisfy fans of murder mysteries and the book on which this movie is based. Jon Hamm’s skill for dry wit holds everything together. Without his great sense of comedic timing, the protagonist of “Confess, Fletch” wouldn’t be as interesting to watch.

Directed by Greg Mottola (who co-wrote the “Confess, Fletch” screenplay with Zev Borow), “Confess, Fletch” is adapted from Gregory Mcdonald’s 1976 book of the same title. The movie has been updated to take place in the early 2020s. This update is put to great use involving the movie’s running gag about GPS tracking.

At the beginning of “Confess, Fletch,” Irving Maurice Fletcher (played by Hamm), who prefers to be called by his nickname Fletch, is spending his first night at a rental townhouse in Boston. He goes downstairs to fix himself a drink, she he sees a murdered young woman on the living room floor. The cause of death is blunt force trauma to the head.

Fletch calmly calls 911 to report the murder, and he fixes himself drink. When the police arrive, Fletch appears too casual about everything and immediately falls under suspicion, since he was the only person in the house to find the body. When the estimated time of death is later revealed, Fletch doesn’t have an alibi. To make matters worse for Fletch, his fingerprints are all over the murder weapon: a wine bottle.

The name of the murder victim is Laurel Goodwin (played by Caitlin Zerra Rose), who was an aspiring art dealer or art broker. She was working as a barista while trying to start a career in the art industry. Fletch insists to the police that he never met or saw Laurel before he found her dead in the townhouse. He also says he has no motive to kill this stranger.

The two police officials who are on the case are Sergeant Inspector Morris Monroe (played by Roy Wood Jr.) and his rookie partner Griz (played by Ayden Mayeri), who also goes by the name Gracie. Fletch is the type of person who’s irked that he had to tell these investigators his real full name, but Griz refuses to tell Fletch what her real full name is. Throughout the movie, Fletch plays pranks on Griz, who is more gullible than Inspector Monroe.

Inspector Monroe thinks that Fletch is the most likely suspect, and he’s inclined to arrest Fletch for the murder, but there’s not enough evidence. Instead, Inspector Monroe keeps telling Fletch to make things easy for everyone by confessing to the murder. Instead, Fletch (who has a background in investigative journalism) irritates the police by trying to solve the murder himself.

Why is Fletch in Boston? The townhouse was actually rented by Fletch’s new girlfriend Angela De Grassi (played by Lorenza Izzo), a wealthy Italian heiress whom he met in Rome. Angela and Fletch have been dating for only one month. During their whirlwind romance, Angela finds out that several valuable paintings owned by her father have been stolen. And then, her father gets kidnapped. One of the paintings is a Picasso worth $20 million.

Fletch was able to find out that a Boston-based art collector named Ronald Horan (played by Kyle MacLachlan) has bought one of the paintings, but the painting hasn’t been delivered yet. It doesn’t mean that Ronald knows that the paintings have been stolen. Fletch is in Boston to investigate who will be delivering the painting and to find out if Ronald knows that the art has been stolen. Police in Italy are investigating the reported kidnapping of Angela’s father.

In other words, Fletch has tasked himself with two investigations in this story: the investigation of who murdered Laurel Goodwin and the investigation of who stole the De Grassi family paintings. Angela bitterly complains to Fletch that Angela’s stepmother Countess Sylvia De Grassi (played by Marcia Gay Harden) is a gold digger and might have been responsible for this art theft to get a secret fortune from selling the paintings.

Fletch sometimes stumbles and fumbles in his investigations, but he often manages to stay one step ahead of the police. He encounters some eccentric chararacters along the way, including Countess De Grassi, who tries to seduce Fletch in ways the movie deliberately compares to the Mrs. Robinson character in the 1968 film “The Graduate.” Harden (who is American in real life) is hilarious in this Countess De Grassi role, even though Harden’s Italian accent isn’t always believable.

The townhouse is owned by Owen Tasserly (played by John Behlmann), a wealthy heir who has been floundering in life. He tried and failed to be an actor and a restaurant owner. Owen is currently an art dealer who’s in the middle of a contentious divorce and custody battle over his underage daughter. Owen was apparently away on a trip to Europe during the murder, so he has an alibi.

Other characters in the story include Owen’s flaky neighbor Eve (played by Annie Mumolo), who is a talkative stoner with an apparent crush on Owen; Tatiana Tasserly (played by Lucy Punch), Owen’s pretentious and estranged wife; and gruff and sarcastic Frank Jaffe (played by John Slattery), who used to be Fletch’s boss at the Los Angeles Tirbune and who currently works as an editor at the Boston Sentinel. “Mad Men” fans should be pleased that former “Mad Men” stars Hamm and Slattery have a few scenes together in “Confess, Fletch.”

The movie has a breezy tone that plays up Fletch’s “naughty boy” attitude. Fletch is also a huge fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, which is used for recurring jokes in the film, such as Fletch’s fondness for wearing a Los Angeles Lakers cap and flaunting his Lakers fandom to people in Boston, who are no doubt Boston Celtics fans. Comparisons are inevitable to director Michael Ritchie’s 1985 “Fletch” movie (starring Chevy Chase in the title role), but “Confess, Fletch” and Hamm’s portrayal of Fletch makes this character less of a slapstick buffoon and more of a grizzled wiseass with sex appeal. Overall, “Confess, Fletch” (just like the title character himself) has some flaws and missteps, but the movie’s self-effacing comedy is appealing because it always lets the audience in on the joke.

Miramax/Paramount Pictures released “Confess, Fletch” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 16, 2022. Showtime will premiere the movie on October 28, 2022.

Review: ‘Gigi & Nate,’ starring Marcia Gay Harden, Charlie Rowe, Josephine Langford, Zoe Colletti, Hannah Riley, Jim Belushi and Diane Ladd

September 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Charlie Rowe and Allie in “Gigi & Nate” (Photo by Anne Marie Fox/Roadside Attractions)

“Gigi & Nate”

Directed by Nick Hamm

Culture Representation: Taking place over a five-year period in Tennessee and briefly in North Carolina, the dramatic film “Gigi & Nate” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After getting quadriplegia at the age of 18, Nate Gibson’s life is changed at the age of 22, when he gets a capuchin monkey named Gigi as a service animal, but that special relationship is threatened when an animal-rights activist group works to ban capuchin monkeys as household pets. 

Culture Audience: “Gigi & Nate” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching sappy and frequently boring melodramas about cute animals.

Charlie Rowe, Allie and Marcia Gay Harden in “Gigi & Nate” (Photo by Anne Marie Fox/Roadside Attractions)

If the adorable capuchin monkey in “Gigi & Nate” could speak a human language, she would say, “Get me out of this embarrassing movie.” The monkey is the best thing about this overly sappy, tedious and predictable melodrama. Unfortunately, the trailer for “Gigi & Nate” already reveals about 90% of the movie’s plot. The story’s main conflict is rushed in the last third of the film. And so, that leaves the first-two thirds of “Gigi & Nate” to be a lackluster slog of a self-pitying young man with quadriplegia who starts to have a more positive attitude about life when he gets a capuchin monkey as a service animal.

Directed by Nick Hamm and written by David Hudgins, “Gigi & Nate” doesn’t start off as a terrible film. The last third of the movie, which is supposed to be the best part, is what’s mishandled the most and thereby ruins the movie. In the beginning of “Gigi & Nate,” 18-year-old Nate Gibson (played by Charlie Rowe) is spending his summer vacation with his family in an unnamed city in Tennessee. (“Gigi & Nate” was actually filmed in North Carolina.)

Life is going very well for Nate, who lives several miles away in Nashville and is about to go to an unnamed university in the fall. One day during this vacation, Nate goes with some other young people to an outdoor swimming hole located near some cliffs. Accompanying him on this swimming outing are Nate’s feisty older sister Katy (played by Josephine Langford); Katy’s boyfriend Travis Holter (played by Emilio Garcia-Sanchez); Benji Betts (played by Olly Sholotan); and 17-year-old Lori (played by Zoe Colletti, also known as Zoe Margaret Colletti), who has recently stuck up a mild flirtation with Nate. Lori met Nate at the fireworks outdoor stand where she works.

Nate is a bit of a daredevil, so he takes a dare to jump of a cliff and do a back flip into the water. The water is deep enough not to cause him any injuries. But when Nate emerges from the water, he looks slightly disoriented. It’s a foreshadowing of what’s to come later.

After this swimming trip, Nate is having dinner with family members and friends. In addition to Nate and Katy, the other members of the Gibson family who are on this vacation are Nate’s outspoken homemaker mother Claire Gibson (played by Marcia Hay Harden); Nate’s mild-mannered younger sister Annabelle (played by Hannah Riley), who’s about 15 years old; and Claire’s sassy and sometimes-crude mother Mama Blanche (played by Diane Ladd). Claire’s husband, Dan Gibson (played by Jim Belushi), who is the family patriarch, is away on a business trip.

Nate tells his mother that he’s having very painful headaches, and she advises him to take some aspirin. But what’s wrong with Nate can’t be fixed with aspirin. He collapses in the bathroom, and he ends up in a hospital. Dan is called away from his business trip for this emergency, and he frantically rushes to be with Nate and the rest of the family.

The medical diagnosis is that Nate contracted amoebic meningitis from the water he ingested during that fateful swimming excursion. The meningitis has left him with quadriplegia (paralysis of his arms and legs) and needing to use a wheelchair to move around. Early on in Nate’s hospitalization, Claire makes the decision to have Nate sent by helicopter to their home city of Nashville, where he can get advanced medical care.

This medical condition is emotionally devastating to Nate and his loved ones. He becomes hopeless and bitter, and he spends the next four years of his life basically being a shut-in, because Claire is overprotective and doesn’t want Nate to spend a lot of time outside in public. At one point, Nate becomes so depressed, that when he’s outside in his home’s backyard, he tilts his wheelchair so that he deliberately falls into the backyard pond. It’s a huge cry for help instead of a serious suicide attempt, because Dan is nearby in the backyard, and he immediately rescues Nate.

When Nate is 22 years old, his life changes for the better when Claire comes up with the idea to get Nate a service animal to keep Nate company and to give him encouragement and a better motivation to live. And that’s when capuchin monkey Gigi (played by Allie) comes into Nate’s life. Gigi, who was rescued from a petting zoo, does all the expected things that inspirational pets do in movies like “Gigi & Nate.”

Gigi cheers up Nate when he’s feeling depressed and anxious. Gigi is an enthusiastic assistant during Nate’s physical therapy sessions. Gigi also makes human-like expressions on her face to show that she has a distinct personality and feelings. (Some CGI effects were used in some of the monkey scenes.)

In other words, Gigi helps Nate come out of his reclusive shell. He starts to venture out in public more, with Gigi as his constant companion. One day, Nate is at a local grocery store with Gigi and his mother Claire, and he sees Lori working at the store as a stock clerk.

Lori has not seen or kept in touch with Nate since the day at the swimming hole. And so, at first, Lori doesn’t recognize Nate when they see each other. His hair is longer than it was that day, and he’s now in a wheelchair. Lori is shocked to see Nate in a wheelchair, and she bluntly asks him what happened. She then profusely apologizes for coming off as a little harsh.

Nate tells Lori why he now has quadriplegia, and that Gigi is his service animal. Lori is utterly charmed by Gigi, and she encourages Nate to set up a social media account to document his life with Gigi. And you know what that means later in the story: The videos go viral, and Nate becomes a little famous. Nate and Lori also get closer to each other, since there’s still a romantic spark between them.

At the grocery store where Nate and Lori had their unexpected reunion, someone sees Gigi in the store and isn’t happy about it at all. Her name is Chloe Gaines (played by Welker White), the Tennessee chapter president of Americans for Animal Protection. It’s a group that works to ban certain wild animals as pets in private households, because the group believes these animals should be in a more natural habitat.

Chloe tersely confronts Claire and Nate and informs them that the monkey shouldn’t be in the grocery store because it’s a violation of health code laws. And even though this movie depicts Chloe as a meddling, unreasonable shrew, she is right about the health code violation. Nate allowed Gigi to climb all over the packaged food on the grocery store shelves. As cute as this monkey is, it’s just not sanitary to have animals crawling over food in a grocery store or any place that sells and stores food.

Claire and Nate are very defensive and tell Chloe that Gigi is not just a pet. Gigi is a working service animal. But that’s not a good-enough explanation for Chloe. As shown in the trailer for “Gigi & Nate,” Chloe becomes the “villain” of the story, as she launches a campaign over the next year to ban capuchin monkeys as household pets in Tennessee. The trailer also shows that Gigi gets taken away from Nate. This conflict is crammed in too late in the movie’s last half-hour.

The Gibson family is in regular contact with Carolyn Albion (played by Mishel Prada), the leader of the animal rescue group that saved Gigi from mistreatment at the petting zoo. She’s on the Gibson family’s side in their battle against the Tennessee chapter of Americans for Animal Protection. Nate also has a caretaker named Nogo (played by Sasha Compère), who is also part of the Gibson family’s support system.

The only crucial plot point that isn’t shown in movie’s trailer is how the conflict is ultimately resolved. That part is hastily and sloppily contrived and shown in the movie’s last 10 minutes. It all comes across as very shallow and cloying.

“Gigi & Nate” has a talented cast, but most of the supporting characters are written in a bland way. Mama Blanche has a few lines of dialogue as cheeky zingers, but she’s mostly a sidelined character. Harden and Rowe, as Claire and Nate, have some poignant mother/son moments, while Belushi’s Dan character is a workaholic who has arguments with Claire about Nate’s ongoing care. Dan thinks Claire is overly cautious, and he believes that Nate should have more freedom.

As soon as the monkey comes into the picture as Nate’s service animal, “Gigi & Nate” becomes more about the animal antics and less about the human psychological challenges of adjusting to life with quadriplegia. If the filmmakers thought this psychological angle would be too depressing, then they still could’ve made “Gigi & Nate” a better movie if they made the conflict of the Gibson family versus Americans for Animal Protection a bigger part of the story. That’s why the movie’s showdown scene in a Tennessee state legislative hearing is very truncated and anticlimactic.

“Gigi & Nate” isn’t a completely terrible movie, because the acting performances are competent. It’s just a disappointing film that handles many important issues in a very cringeworthy way that overloads on being hokey, and thereby cheapens the intended messages of the movie. “Gigi & Nate” has some appealing monkey scenes, but is missing a lot of the realistic human grit needed to make this movie more interesting and meaningful.

Roadside Attractions released “Gigi & Nate” in U.S. cinemas on September 2, 2022.

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