Feeling Minnesota

The gray landscapes, the twangy country music on the soundtrack, the fashionably rumpled and unshaven Keanu Reeves squinting and pouting (somewhere between contemplative and constipated) …. For a while, I thought I was watching My Own Private Idaho, especially during the credits, when exotic dancers in framed portraits come to life (a swipe from the much wittier gay-porn gag in Idaho). But this isn’t Idaho, it’s Minnesota — Feeling Minnesota, to be exact. Or, to be more exact, Unfeeling Minnesota. (The title, incidentally, is from Soundgarden’s “Outshined,” which is heard in True Romance: “I’m looking California/And feeling Minnesota.” Whatever that might mean.) The movie is one of those calculatedly hip and quirky Gen-X marketing decisions, far too cool to engage our emotions and too inept to engage anything else. Everyone on the screen is stupid and passive — passive even when they’re aggressive — and the attempts at whimsy crash down like dead trees.

Reeves is the semi-hero, a compulsive thief named Jjaks, whose name is the result of a birth-certificate error. Since I don’t have the stomach to type “Jjaks” repeatedly, I will rename him Typo. Typo drifts back into his hometown to attend the wedding of his loutish brother Sam (Vincent D’Onofrio), whose unwilling new bride Freddie (Cameron Diaz) falls in love with Typo at first sight. Taking pity on Freddie, who’s been forced by local bad guy Red (Delroy Lindo) to marry Sam, Typo whisks her away along with some of Sam’s money. Thus begins a kind of Punch-and-Judy show between the brothers, who pound each other every time their paths cross. The one good thing I can say about first-time writer-director Steven Baigelman is that he stages the Typo-Sam fights naturalistically, with authentic clumsiness. But the rest of Baigelman’s direction is just as klutzy.

Feeling Minnesota is one bad screenwriting decision after another; it could be taught in film school as an example of what to avoid. For instance, avoid scenes that go nowhere, such as the one set at a gas station. Sam follows Typo to this station and promptly locks himself out of his car. So he steals a truck hitched to a trailer carrying a show horse. What comes of this? Nothing, except a guest appearance by Courtney Love as a waitress who asks Sam, “Is that your horse?”

Courtney’s actually one of the few reasons I didn’t hit the aisle; Baigelman gives her nothing to do, but she seems to relish the irony of playing perhaps the sanest character in the movie. I also liked Cameron Diaz, except that Baigelman keeps her offscreen too long near the end (and keeps us in suspense about whether she’s dead). The two leads surprised me more. D’Onofrio, a decent character performer, overacts in every scene. I found it hard to look at him. Reeves, not exactly Olivier, is halfway likable as the confused Typo. After a while, I began to feel that Reeves’ confusion was real — that he couldn’t quite figure out what Feeling Minnesota was supposed to be or where he fit into it. I could certainly relate.

Explore posts in the same categories: comedy, one of the year's worst, romance

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