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    Verdi cats

    "Rick" is a spry, satirical update of Verdi's "Rigoletto" set in a stylish but cutthroat corporate office.


    If you consider "rigoletto" to be something you'd find on an Olive Garden menu you might not fully appreciate the finer points of Curtiss Clayton's "Rick," a revisionist retelling of the Giuseppe Verdi opera in which a woman dressed as a man winds up in a sack. But you don't need to know "Rigoletto" to fully savor "Rick" (or "rrrrRick" according to its opening credits), since the film is a distinctive experience in its own right.

    Directed by: Curtiss Clayton.
    Written by: Daniel Handler.
    Cast: Bill Pullman, Aaron Stanford, Agnes Bruckner, Dylan Baker, Sandra Oh.
    Cinematography: Lisa Rinzler.
    Edited by: Curtiss Clayton.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    Angelika Film Center 18 West Houston at Mercer St. Opens Sept. 24, 2004

    Yes, "Rigoletto" is a tragedy and so is Clayton's film, one that stars Bill Pullman as the jester Rick O'Lett, Agnes Bruckner ("Blue Car") as his daughter Eve, and Aaron Stanford as the Duke. "Rick" is clearly not for everyone's tastes — it's dark and weird and there's not a single person to root for in it — but it grabbed my attention from the get-go and if it weren't for a comparatively luster-free third act, in which the darkness and the weirdness turn inappropriately mainstream, we'd be looking at one of the best films of the year.

    As it is "Rick" will remain one of my favorites of 2004 for its sheer divisiveness.

    Clayton's film exists in its own surreal, corporate world of extreme male chauvinism, where an "Image"-conscious Rick and his much younger boss Duke delight in chastising their female co-workers with a spry, bitter banter. When Rick's nine o'clock arrives (Sandra Oh, nicely projecting lowercase rather than all caps for a change), Rick turns backtalk into humiliation, ridiculing his interviewee for corporate sport. The degradation continues later on when Rick and Duke, boasting about the day's put-downs at a sleazy watering hole where male clients check out their female counterparts' counter parts via videocams, are served by Oh's waitress. Fired on the spot for brattling with the clientele, Michelle damns Rick with a Chinese curse... although her grandparents are actually Japanese.

    Rick's daughter Eve, on the other hand, with whom the corporate ax man shares a creepily close relationship, likes to hang out in Internet sex chat rooms using the handle Vixxxen, coyly e-sparring with a user called BigBoss. When Rick figures out the connection, he makes a sleazy corporate Buck (Dylan Baker) eliminate the object of Eve's online affections, but Verdi's pre-text ensures this unique, monstrously perverse film will eschew anything close to a sappy ending.

    "Rick" is conceived by Daniel Handler, creator of the "Lemony Snicket" series of children's books (look for a big-screen Jim Carrey variant this Christmas) and his macabre, mordant sense of humor cuts through the film like a maniacal CEO who's just discovered the benefits of attrition. Director Clayton handles Handler's vision with fiendish flair, keeping "Rick" off-kilter but immensely entertaining (including its delicate yuletide accordion score).

    Pullman, again, pulls off a perfect comic performance, a twitchy, volatile mess of a man with a dead wife, a promiscuous daughter (Bruckner goes for the knit cap again), and a penchant for callousness that goes way beyond the conference room. Pullman's been pulling off these kinds of oddballs for years (in films like "Igby Goes Down," "Lake Placid," and "Lost Highway"); quirky, infectious characters that play it close to the surface, threatening to crack at any moment. He's delightful here... delightful, with a wicked, cynical edge.

    Rick's all his and between them Clayton and Handler make "Rick" all ours.

    SEPTEMBER 24, 2004

    Reader comments on Rick:

  • Rick   from Laura, Mar 9, 2005
  • Rick   from Brad, Mar 20, 2005
  • Great flick   from Tommy C, Nov 14, 2007

  • Post a comment on "Rick"