John Leguizamo is an earnest security guard in Los Angeles who loves his wife, Rosie Perez, and his two children. He is coerced into taking part in a robbery of an armored car by three husky guys led by Tyrese Gibson, who threatens his family if he doesn't comply. A couple of other guards are caught by surprise and deliberately murdered by the thieves. Gibson shoots Leguizamo in the head and arranges the crime scene in such a way as to make him look guilty.
Leguizamo manages to survive. He's comatose for a while but eventually recovers, as much as you can recover from a bullet wound in the frontal lobe. "His personality may be changed," the surgeon warns his wife.
Indeed it does change. Frontal lobotomies were discovered by means of accidents. They tended to cut down on the more virulent hallucinations but they also made patients' manners coarser and impaired their ability to plan for the future. That is, these kinds of wounds, whether medically induced or otherwise, kneecap your judgment.
Leguizamo is thrown into easy rages over trivial things. He can't satisfy his wife anymore and smashes furniture, driving his family away. He sasses the cops and the cynical FBI agent coolly rendered by Bobby Cannavale. Then he undertakes to find the criminals on his own, skipping out from under surveillance. There are only a few chases and shootings.
It's a taut and credible story and the performances are good. Leguizamo doesn't exemplify celluloid magic, and Gibson, as the chief malefactor, isn't given the kind of non-stereotypical license that, say, Delroy Lindo is, in some of Quentin Tarantino's work. But Cannavale is just fine and Rosie Perez does as well here as she's done anywhere else. Her features are more lined, her dimples deeper, and she's not twenty years old anymore but who is?
The movie's virtues are almost destroyed by the direction, photography, and editing. They are to the film's integrity what that bullet was to Leguizamo's brain.
It's not as bad as the last two "Bourne" movies -- but it's pretty bad. The camera wobbles all over the place. There are instantaneous cuts, some negative shots. I don't have the technical vocabulary to describe the photography but it's high contrast. There were times when I thought the images would lapse into nothing more than blinding light sources and reflections, leaving the remainder of the screen entirely black. A scene in the OR is shot with the lighting mostly coming from the side, so that the gaping wound in which the doc's forceps are probing is a deep, dark void. And this is an operating room! The pallet seems to vary from white and black to gloomy green.
Sometimes this sort of thing, done in moderation, works splendidly, as in "Seven." Other cop/crime stories of unimpeachable quality haven't used this faddish stuff at all -- "L. A. Confidential," "To Live and Die in L. A.", not to mention "Chinatown." I mean, really, there is a simple extended close up of a cell phone -- and the camera oscillates from side to side like the head of a snake in a fairy tale.
Well, I guess we don't want to bore the fourteen-year-old minds in the audience, who would be snoring if five minutes passed without some kind of action -- if not the characters, then the camera. Still, it's bad enough in mindless action movies but this story deals as much with the drama of Leguizamo and his family as it does with the unfolding of the crime plot.