Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Take Me To Dinner [2014]

Director: Gavin Yap
Writer: Gavin Yap
Starring: Patrick Teoh, Susan Lankester, Thor Kah Hoong, Ben Tan, U-En Ng, Michael Chen, Jia-Wei Loo, Chew Kin Wah
Genre: Drama
Rating: General
Verdict: "Will entertain regular patrons of KLPac, but the rest of us might find the incessant monologues taxing to sit through..."

Edward (Patrick Teoh) is an aging contract killer who decides that he has had enough of this life, and would like to leave the business for good. He strikes a friendship with a woman named Jennifer (Susan Lankester), with whom he tries to make a meaningful connection in the days leading up to his retirement dinner, where he will be retiring more than just his career.

What to Expect
1. Practically a play
2. Solid performance from Teoh and Lankester
3. A clever script, but-
4. Tons of monologues
5. Anglophile supporting characters

What NOT to Expect
1. Jason Bourne
If there's nothing better to see that day
Okay, here's the deal. Take Me To Dinner isn't bad, just that it's only a film by technicality. As far as the experience - or the feel of it - goes, it's more like watching a play. I have nothing against plays, of course; but imagine going to a football game and realising too late that they're playing handball instead.

And to make the experience even more tiresome, the gameplay stops every ten minutes when somebody blows the whistle 'cause they feel like breaking into a monologue. For a while, I couldn't put my finger on it and wondered why I needed several intermissions (they weren't any, so I took the liberty of creating my own) for a ninety-minute film.

It certainly isn't because the movie is not "visual" enough, or the fact that it's dialogue-driven; because 12 Angry Men [1957] remains one of my all-time favourites, and I could see it again and again and still be engrossed in the experience. Don't get me started on Tarantino pictures.

The problem with Take Me To Dinner, if I may venture an opinion, boils down to its characters. I just don't find them believable. For starters, they all sound like they're doing English dubs for Japanese cartoons with a slight British twang. Have I mentioned monologues? 'cause each character seem like they're waiting for their chance to deliver one, and when it happens you won't see it coming:

"Good lord, I'm thoroughly famished."
"Why, my good sir, so am I."
"I remember when I was a child; whenever I get hungry, my mother would beat me bla bla bla..."
I'm exaggerating, of course, and that wasn't an actual exchange from the film. But you get what I mean, right?

When your characters seem so distanced from the audience, it's hard to relate to them and as a result, it becomes a lot harder to care. This goes beyond the fact that I'm not from the same demographic our characters supposedly belong to; i.e. I don't know the difference between sherry and chardonnay (But I do know Sherry Al-Hadad). An odd thing to say, I know. Because how then, am I able to enjoy sci-fi flicks, with aliens or robots as the protagonist?

Well, here's the thing; I can. Or rather, if I'm able to, that means characterisations in that particular film are good. The film would start with the said alien (or robot), but gradually shows (not tell) that there are some very human things about them. That's how films like Wreck-It Ralph [2012] made me shed some manly-tears. With the guys in Take Me To Dinner, I don't know what or how am I supposed to feel about them.

They look like humans, they move like humans, but they strike me as aliens wearing human skin: like Frasier and Niles without the warmth and the wit. Now, you could argue that the monologues are there to counter exactly that; so we can get into their minds and see that they are humans too. But the way it is done in the film - too much telling and too little showing - just didn't do it for me.

Imagine a stranger walks up to you and proceeds to talk your ears off. Would you really empathise with them, or would you be irked instead?

Now, you will notice that whenever they're not doing expository dialogues, the exchanges are actually well-written. And when nobody's talking at all, that's when you'll appreciate what veteran actors Patrick Teoh and Susan Lankester bring to the table. Not saying it's Oscar-worthy or anything like that, but they did carry the film to the finish line; Teoh in particular.

In short, I have mixed feelings about Take Me To Dinner. I was amused at times, bored at most; wanted to like it but ended up didn't; but there is one thing I didn't end up feeling, which is regret. People often say a film is "different" when they're trying to be nice about a film they don't quite like. But in this case, this film really is different, and I'm not nice.

I didn't regret shelling out money for Take Me To Dinner because this is one of those films you really have to see to know whether or not you're gonna like it, which is more than I can say about most of MiG productions. Sadly I can't wholeheartedly recommend it based on that alone. However, I do want to applaud Garang Pictures for doing what most studios apparently still don't get: what we need is variety, not more hantu or rempit flicks.

So thank you, sir. Can I have another?

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