Sunday, December 7, 2014

So Much “I Don’t Care!”: The Mule Craps Out!

The Good: Makes the subject of the film watchable, Acting is all right
The Bad: Dull plot, Unlikable characters, Utterly unremarkable.
The Basics: The Mule is a film as dull as watching paint dry . . . or waiting for a guy to take two craps.

Lately, NPR has been a good source of entertainment suggestions for me. A few weeks back, I heard an interview with the author of a new biography of the creator of Wonder Woman (that review will be forthcoming, as I have almost finished reading the book!) and when I picked up the book, I discovered it was at least as engaging as the interview had promised. There have been a few other products they have recommended that I’ve tried that have been similar hits. In fact, the only “miss” so far in recent memory was The Mule.

The Mule is a film that is playing in limited release in the United States and is an Australian import. A period piece, The Mule is like . . . well, no other movie I can think of. It has the mood and pacing of Lilyhammer and the sweat and late-70’s/early-80’s ick factor of American Hustle (reviewed here!). It is, quite literally, a film about a man waiting to poop. Based upon a true story that one has to wonder why Jaime Browne, Leigh Whannell, and Angus Sampson felt needed to be told (much less made into a film), The Mule lacks spark, excitement, or characters even remotely worth sitting down to watch.

In Melbourne in 1983, two weeks before he is having his anal cavity inspected by airport security, Ray is a loser, living in his mother’s house and working at a television repair shop. Surprised when his local football club names him Player Of The Year and awards him with a trip to Bankok, Ray starts to get excited by life again (doing things like punching a bully at a party and demanding his lunch break from his lazy, somewhat overbearing boss). But almost immediately, Ray learns that him winning the trip was a hoax, a set-up by his best friend Gavin and the local club owner/gangster, Pat. Pat wants Ray and Gavin to smuggle heroin back from Thailand and when the job promises to pay off his stepfather’s gambling debts and keep his beloved mother protected from mob harm, Ray begrudgingly agrees.

After swallowing the heroin in Thailand, Ray heads back to Australia, where he is stopped because he’s acting twitchy. Enter Detective Tom Croft and his determined, but corrupt, partner Paris. On a court order, Ray is detained for a week so he can have two bowel movements, pass the drugs, and go to jail. While Ray’s lawyer works to get him released early, Croft tries to manipulate Ray into confessing and pooping. As the America’s Cup race captivates the officers detaining Ray, Ray works to outwit them and get the drugs out of his body and back to the ruthless Pat before he is caught.

The Mule is about the wait and the games law enforcement plays in order to try to get what they want and the problem is that the film is not a story with any clear purpose. None of the characters are particularly good, none are likable and none even rise to being the status of cinematic archetypes. This is not a story even about shades of gray; it’s all shades of dull.

Arguably the least-dull is Hugo Weaving’s Croft. Croft wants Ray and his drugs, but he wants the man Ray is working for even more. He is determined and dedicated to his job and, despite some near-the-line coercive attempts with Ray, he manages to remain within the bounds of Australian law. Unfortunately, for all of Croft’s goodness and determination, he (in the fictionalized world of The Mule) is nowhere near as smart or observant as viewers might want to believe. He is outwitted by Ray and he fails to recognize just how corrupt Paris is. While Croft toes the line and is attentive to what is legal, Paris eagerly leaps over the line separating legal and illegal and degenerates into pretty overt violence to try to get what he wants from Ray.

As for Ray, it is virtually impossible to care about him one way or the other. Ray is doing something illegal and his motivation is not the strongest – he is more the subject of peer pressure, plagued by his own lack of resolve once he goes through with his friend’s request. So, whether he gets caught or not does not matter all that much to the audience and so The Mule ends up as something of a waiting game. Co-writer, co-director and second-billed Angus Sampson plays Ray with a slouch and matted-down hair and all the energy of a retired chronic masturbator. While Sampson plays the part ably, he does not make the character any more watchable.

The result, ultimately, is a movie that is not worth trekking out to the cinema for, nor even bothering with when it inevitably ends up as a freebie on any streaming platform.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
The Seventh Son
Inherent Vice
Still Alice
The Interview
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Horrible Bosses 2
10,000 Days
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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