Monday, March 5, 2012

5 against the House

It's Noir Week! And you know what that means! don't know what that means? Well lemme tell you!  I'll review 5 noir films for each day this week! And we're kicking it off with 5 Against the House!
Pictured: The only remotely interesting person in this movie.
Monday has a slow start with 5 Against. It's not going to win any awards for most noiry noir anytime soon, I'll tell you that.

Four college buddies(college men? they all look 30+ and two of them were in the war), visit a casino in Reno, Nevada for a vacation and get a crazy notion in their heads...what if they were to rob the casino? It starts out as an interesting "what if" until things start to get heated and they're forced to actually pull it off!

This really wasn't that entertaining or suspenseful of a noir. It's a real let-down. The main problem is there's no suspense, no extenuating circumstances, no big pushers or motivators, basically nothing giving the inclination that this IS in fact noir. It gets a little more tense later on, but for about an hour, the main push of the plot is "Why should we do this? Because we feel like it."  Why should I watch this film then? It definitely won't be "because I feel like it." If protagonists have to do something that they clearly know is wrong, it should be because they're backed into a corner to do so, but here, all the corners are rounded.  They should be forced to because of debt, gangsters, a woman, a mystery or their own personal demons driving them insane, but never just because they feel like it. That's boring.

The main protagonists are what would later evolve into the fratboy college douchebags, so I already can't sympathize with any of them. They try to have some witty dialogue between them, but coming out of their mouths they just sound like huge unlikable dicks.  They even trick a poor freshman into being their college slave, and get angry at the slightest indication he's trying to stand up for himself. I get noir protagonists are supposed to be unlikable, but this is too much. Later, they even get this kid to be the fifth wheel in their would-be gang, so I don't know if I should feel sorry for the kid, or hate him for not having any backbone.

Probably the most exciting part is when Brick(Brian Keith) goes off on another student for getting in his way for some reason and almost kills him with his bare hands. Brick has been in the war and has some issues with his brain, you see.  I like Brick because he's the only one with any kind of motivation or internal struggle. See, he's not too smart, and he's been in college for a while, and even if and when he graduates, he knows he'll have a ton of loans to pay(Man, can I relate), so he NEEDS to do this heist.  That's the kind of tough decision making I can get behind in a noir, but it's too little too late.  Why couldn't this be the motivation for the rest of the gang? You know what could have been a really good noir idea? 3 working class college kids who know they can't pay back their loans after college, and one rich kid goody-two-shoes who's got a free ride. Now THAT'S tension. Actually, let me write that down...

This is probably the tamest noir you'll see, if you dare watch it. The body count is effectively zero, and while I don't necessarily need a high body/blood count for it to be a good noir, it helps. And in this case, no blood really hurts the tension.  It's not just that there's no dead people, it's that you never really feel like any of the protagonists are in an immediate danger. There's not even a real threat of blood.

One of the side stories involves Al(Guy Madison) who wants to marry Kay(Kim Novak), but she doesn't want to marry him right now. What a dilemma! Oh wait, five minutes later she does want to marry him? Problem solved with no tension or suspense? Any reason we should care? No? Ok then.  There's a reason romance like this is dragged out for the entirety of the movie, it provides suspense over whether or not they're going to get together.

There's nothing really sensational about the cinematography or the sound.  There aren't any really tense or exciting scenes either. There is one scene that's supposed to be tense, but it's undermined by the fact they are all dressed up as cowboys.  Yep. They tease an automated parking garage early on, all but guaranteeing this is going to be where the big shootout takes place.  And while it is where the climax of the movie happens, and while I was expecting a huge shootout, it's nothing of the sort.  It was just sort of, guy goes up, another guy yells "Hey can you please come down?" and then the other guy does. End of movie. But hey, maybe in 1955 that was as exciting as the scene from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which also had an automated parking garage.

These aren't really good guys, but they're not really bad guys either. And it's not that their criminals with hearts of gold or tragically flawed heroes or some other gray area archetype, they're just a bunch of boring jerks. Y'know, like most college douchbags. And like most of their adventures, it's not exciting.

THE GOOD: One semi-passable fight scene, Brian Keith is half-way decent, Kim Novak is in there, being pretty.

THE BAD: pretty boring, with nothing special, no good plot, boring dickish characters, no tension or suspense.

THE VERDICT: Pass. Not even die-hard noir fans need to see this snoozefest. The only reason I might  recommend it is for movie/animation majors who want a good example on how not to add tension to your movie.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Ocean's 11, but with more boring and less style.

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Early on, a couple of the boys get accidentally mixed up with a real bank robber. "Now hold on, these aren't criminals, we're college boys!" Why no, no you're not. Get the hell out of my noir you bunch of emotionless hacks!

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