Lou

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It’s tempting to say that the idea of Allison Janney as an action hero would be tough for any movie to live up to, but Lou tries very hard. Lou (Janney) is a scowling loner who lives off the coast of Seattle with her loyal dawg. (The dog survives; the movie never really puts that in doubt.) She acts as a grouchy landlady to Hannah (Jurnee Smollett) and her little daughter Vee (Ridley Bateman), who live nearby. Problem: Hannah’s ex-husband Philip (Logan Marshall-Green), a psycho who used to be with the Special Forces, kidnaps Vee, spiriting her across the rainy, perilous island towards a symbolic structure, with Lou and Hannah in hot pursuit. 

We know Lou’s no pushover even before she angles into a shack inhabited by two of Philip’s armed associates and dispatches them ruthlessly, one with a broken and sharp soup can. For this scene and at least one other, Allison Janney was trained by martial artist and fight coordinator Daniel Bernhardt, who did likewise for Bob Odenkirk on Nobody. Those who liked Nobody for its transformation of someone not known for action into an ass-kicker will probably want to give Lou a day in court. It is, of course, the sort of story that only speaks in the broad vowels of pulp, but pulp isn’t illegal — why fight it? 

The script (by Maggie Cohn and Jack Stanley) ties together a lot of psychological/thematic threads neatly and, I thought, gratifyingly. The reason for Philip’s psychosis, we eventually gather, opens him up for some sympathy. But he’s no less scary for that, and possibly scarier, because the illness we’ve diagnosed in him will not be readily cured, the rage perhaps never appeased. The narrative threads, on the other hand, knot together in ways that strain credulity. By the end, I was wondering if the kindly ol’ island sheriff (ol’ dependable Matt Craven, a “hey it’s that guy,” Canadian division) was somehow connected to the shenanigans as well. Heck, everyone else seems to be. But if you want starkly believable plots, you’d do well to avoid the “thriller” section at the video store.

Yes, I did say “video store,” which is a too-cute way of saying that Lou unfolds in late 1986, when Reagan is on the box denying any such thing as an exchange of weapons for hostages. An episode of Only Murders in the Building this past season posted a weirdly funny riff on the whole Iran-Contra Affair, too. Why this enduringly shameful chunk of recent American history is rearing its clean-cut Oliver North head now is a question I don’t feel qualified to answer. But it engages nicely with the backstories of some of the characters. It also takes the story out of the realm of cell phones, and when our heroes are trying to reach civilization and have to do it via sketchy walkie-talkies, we might sympathize with writers whose movies would be five minutes long if anyone had a working phone. Not that this rainy, windy island would be within service anyway.

Allison Janney is not the new Michelle Yeoh, or even the new Cynthia Rothrock, but the moves she’s added to her toolbox work for her character even in quiet, noncombative moments. When you’ve been trained to execute maneuvers that can kill someone, you carry your body differently. That was evident with Odenkirk, who trained for two years and definitely had the vibe of someone who could end you efficiently and then move on to the next aspiring corpse, and sometimes had it just sitting there. The key to the performance is the moment when Lou, posing as a frail ol’ gal named Martha who just wants to come in out of the rain, ever so slightly overdoes the frail-ol’-gal mannerisms. Janney is a great actor, but Lou, despite her other skills, is not, quite. (Or she may have been once, but living in isolation for so long has rusted those particular gears.) So Janney acts badly in character, and it’s as though Lou had such contempt for her stupid opponents that she doesn’t bother to make her “performance” realistic. These idiots deserved to die, and didn’t deserve Lou at her peak of imposture. Lou is low-nutrition thriller babble, but it’s often fun, and it has Allison Janney, for Pete’s sake.

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