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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.
. "Breathless"

No kidding. If you chained-smoked half as much as the plotting ladies in this twisty dramedy, you'd be hyperventilating, too. But, that's not the only physical function the trailer trash pals are short on. This comic duo in director, co-writer Jesse Baget's bag of exaggerated comedy is based on the premise that a low-brow fantasy is only as good as the body count, betrayals and fortune at stake. Besides the cigarette smoke, there's double-cross in the Clark County, Texas air.

The fortune to which I refer is the $100,000 cash haul that hubby Dale (Val Kilmer, "Macgruber") stole from the local bank, an event and a perp that's no mystery to anyone hereabouts. The only mystery is where he hid the dough and who can get to it first. Which is why his wife Lorna (Gina Gershon) has him tied up to a chair in the living room of their trailer home while poking a six-shooter in his face. She's not leaving it up to Dale's kindness to make sure she gets cut in before he cuts out.

As he's playing cute -- as though he's got all the cards in the deck as he clearly doesn't -- Lorna calls best girlfriend Tiny (gorgeous Kelli Giddish) to come over and help her deal with the situation. But before these two molecule-size brainiacs come up with a plan, the gun accidentally goes off. Which wouldn't be so bad if the bullet didn't hit Dale square between the eyes.

Doesn't seem to throw Lorna off her game, though, just now she'g got to figure out a way to get rid of the body which is clearly a nuisance. If you've seen the poster on this film you can see Giddish holding an electric carving knife, so it should come as no surprise just how far Baget and his co-writer Stefania Moscato are willing to let these girls go as the gravity increase with the arrival of Sheriff Cooley who would like a word with Dale re the bank heist. But he's no match for a gal who knows her rights and he's obliged to keep his eyes on the trailer from the road while his deputies get a search warrant.

Since he's soon asleep he doesn't notice the arrival of Maurice Doucette, P.I. who, it turns out, knows a lot more about the case than even someone like him should.

The general mirth level of this study in brainlessness is held up with a constantly flowing set of shocks that show no regard for realistic sensibility -- but the laughs, which some will think it riotous, will make it worthwhile for that part of the mad-movie universe who love a farce more'n anything.

"Breathless" follows Baget's "Cellmates" which was in similarly synthethic/psychotic mode but had a much deeper handle on satire. My guess is that "Cellmates" made money on its estimated $3 Mil cost.

Sticking with that low-cost formula, Baget puts his small cast to work on one location for the entire piece with nothing ventured outside the property lines. He hews to a mimimum running time and he gets actors who are probably working for close to scale. I'd like to see what someone who pulls off so much with such limited resources on Congress's Budget Committee. This time out he's working with a $5 Mil budget so, apparently, someone else agrees with what this guy's got going.

But, there's a creative cost. The outrageousness of the violence and actions here challenge the actors and there are signs of a rushed schedule. The cast is a game lot as far as fitting their talents to the extreme behaviors Baget and his script call for, but it's not all smooth sailing. Giddish, with whom I formed a fan bond off her series, "Chase," is the worst off.

With a largely reactive role to Lorna's bizarre actions and ideas, her performance is more subjected to tight editing than anyone else's. My hopes for her kept getting dashed as her reactions were held far longer than she had material to work off. I don't think editor Peter Basinski ("The Caretaker") is to blame. Further tightening on the editing table could have resulted in something short of feature length. "Breathless" runs 91 minutes.

While I see flaws in Baget's work, I also think I detect a promising film stylist who deserves attention and encouragement. Maybe I think so because of the audacity and daring in his work. He's a laughmaker and a satirist who may one day give us a masterpiece. It will be sometime beyond this entry into the low-brow humor-thriller bin, but the possibility could be lingering out there. It'll be fun.

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                                             ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Val Kilmer is Dale
Suffering from too much money and, dang it, not enough secrecy.

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