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Dead Man Down' is D.O.A.

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Strong performances can't salvage weak plot

Those people who enjoyed director Niels Oplev's work with the first film version of Stieg Larsson's 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' have likely been looking forward to the director's American theatrical debut. 

'Dead Man Down' would appear to have all the requisite pieces. There's a strong cast, including Noomi Rapace, who so embodied Lisbeth Salandar in 'Dragon Tattoo.' There's a dark undercurrent of deception and vengeance fueled by anger. The story has that noir-ish feel that Oplev grasps so firmly.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of all involved, 'Dead Man Down' is pretty much dead on arrival.

Victor (Colin Ferrell; 'Seven Psychopaths') is a criminal, an enforcer for a mid-level gangster named Alphonse (Terence Howard; 'Movie 43'). There's some tension in the underworld sphere, however; an unknown person or persons has been tormenting Alphonse for months with cryptic letters and defaced photographs. Victor knows more about the situation than he's letting on.

Meanwhile, Victor is developing an odd quasi-relationship with the young woman who lives in the apartment directly across the street from him. Beatrice (Rapace) is a bit of a shut-in she bears a number of prominent scars following a car accident with a drunk driver and she's apprehensive about rejoining the world, choosing instead to live with her mother (Isabelle Huppert; 'Amour').

Victor and Beatrice soon find themselves connecting, drawn together by mutual wants and needs far too dark to share except with one another. Both of them are broken seemingly irreparably yet they start to find vestiges of hope through their building relationship. However, the realities and mysteries - of their respective situations may prove too much for them to overcome.

On the surface, 'Dead Man Down' has a lot going for it. There's no doubt that Oplev has a deft touch when it comes to this sort of atmospheric bleakness. Making shades of gray feel dynamic is difficult, but the director captures a certain vibe. Unfortunately, the twists and turns the tale takes rapidly devolve from surprising to absurd. That lack of narrative viability essentially torpedoes the whole enterprise.

Granted, the cast is unwilling to let this ship sink without a fight. Colin Ferrell may never become the actor Hollywood once thought he could be, but he has settled into his talents; Victor is a man laid low by life and Ferrell captures that sadness nicely. Rapace is one of the more talented young actresses out there; Beatrice's desperate rage is palpable in spots. Howard does solid work, while character actor heavyweights such as Armand Assante ('The Night Never Sleeps') and F. Murray Abraham ('Goltzius and the Pelican Company') are great in all-too-brief appearances.

Still, despite strong performances and decent direction, 'Dead Man Down' never rises to the occasion. The escalating ludicrousness of the plot effectively eliminates the potential power of the film; instead, we're left with a handful of strong performances that seem woefully out of place considering the circumstances. It's an uneven bore of a film experience, bogged down into mediocrity. 

2 out of 5

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