'Domino': As Bad As She Wants to Be

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 14, 2005

In "Domino," Tony Scott's fabulist version of the life of celebrity-daughter-turned-model-turned-bounty-hunter Domino Harvey, the story explodes rather than unfolds, a scattershot fusillade of squibs and squirts that, while occasionally funny and visually arresting, amount to absolutely nothing.

"Domino" begins with the disclaimer that it is based on a true story . . . "sort of." And indeed, it seems one of the indisputable things about the movie is the name of its title character, the daughter of the actor Laurence Harvey who, after the death of her dad when she was 8, embarked on a troubled girlhood, marked by disastrous visits to boarding schools and sorority houses and ending, after a brief stint on the catwalk, in a Los Angeles bail bondsman's office, where the little girl lost finally found her true bad self. (The real-life Domino died last summer of an accidental overdose of painkillers.)

Such is the factual undergirding of "Domino," which screenwriters Steve Barancik and Richard Kelly have festooned with all manner of colorful characters and dramatic tinsel, creating a glittering bauble designed to distract viewers from the story's frenetic, jury-rigged logic and moral dishonesty. The film pivots around an ill-fated gig that Domino (Keira Knightley) is explaining to an FBI psychologist (Lucy Liu), entailing lots of doubling and tripling back into time, which itself entails Scott's signature technical flourishes.

"Domino" is a visual and aural collage, a pastiche of super-saturated jump cuts, close-ups and on-screen pieces of text, all set to aggressive music cues and a grainy, layered sound design. The overall effect is edgy, tough and sneakily seductive, as the ultimate Girl Gone Wild plies her trade, using whatever it takes -- assault weapons or lap dances -- to get her man.

"Domino," then, is part of a long cinematic tradition of sex and violence as spectacle. But the filmmakers have added a satiric twist: a subplot involving a reality TV show that is following Domino and her crew (played by Mickey Rourke and Edgar Ramirez) as they try to track down a gang that has recently hijacked a Las Vegas casino's armored car. It's during these sequences, in which Christopher Walken plays a producer someone compares to a "ferret on crystal meth," that "Domino" achieves a sort of perfect storm of campy pop cultural references. The WB, "Beverly Hills, 90210," Jerry Springer, tabloid journalism are all invoked throughout "Domino," which in a meta-referential twist features real life "90210" stars Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green as themselves. (There's also a de rigueur reference to Laurence Harvey's most famous film, "The Manchurian Candidate," and a funny ongoing joke involving his co-star, Frank Sinatra. "I knew Frank," someone is always saying. "Everybody knew Frank," someone invariably replies.)

There are moments of manic pleasure in all this, and Knightley, with her raccoon-ringed eyes and tattoos, successfully returns to the tomboy roots of her "Bend It Like Beckham" days. But "Domino" isn't a film that calls for acting as much as posing, be it with a pair of numchuks or a sexily lipped cigarette. It's a movie about skin and blood and bullets, and about the unapologetic enjoyment thereof, and that's what makes its final scenes all the more offensive; after all the stripping, strafing, death and destruction, it turns out that the money Domino and her team recover is -- wait for it -- for the children .

For all its swagger and macha bluster, "Domino" is a movie that, perhaps like its title character, finally just wants to be loved. It's like a ferret on crystal meth that belatedly discovers ecstasy, and it's a tiresome trip either way.

Domino (128 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for strong violence, pervasive profanity, sexual content, nudity and drug use.

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