MRR Review: "Charlie Countryman"

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A guy falls for a woman who's claimed by a violent crime boss
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MRR Review: "Charlie Countryman"

Rating: R
Length: 108 minutes
Release Date: November 15, 2013
Directed by: Fredrik Bond
Genre: Action, Comedy, Romance

"Charlie Countryman" is a movie that defies genre. Too grim to be a typical romantic comedy, yet too fanciful to be a hardened action flick, Fredrik Bond's darkly quirky movie is a tribute to the versatility of moviemaking. Although it might not have a conveniently prepackaged audience, the strength of "Charlie Countryman" lies in the fact that it has something to offer nearly every viewer. For cinematic thrill-seekers who want a refreshing and unique experience, Bond's movie is likely to fit the bill.

Charlie (Shia LaBeouf), an aimless and gloomy young Chicagoan, is taking a trip on the advice of his mother (Melissa Leo). Two things make this a little odd. First, he's traveling all the way to Bucharest, the heart of Romania. Secondly, Charlie's mother is dead when she instructs him to make the voyage. Undeterred, Charlie gets on a plane. He's sitting next to a man named Victor (Ion Caramitru), who seems friendly enough. However, an already unusual journey takes a sharp turn for the worse when Charlie's seatmate unceremoniously dies.

Apparently, Charlie can't escape dead people who like to boss him around, and he has a vision in which his seatmate's spirit requests a small favor of him. Victor has a daughter, Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood). All Charlie has to do is locate Gabi in Bucharest and deliver a souvenir her father brought her from the United States.

There isn't a meet-cute scene in this unconventional tale. All the same, in the fine tradition of romantic comedies, Charlie falls head over heels in love with the brooding, enigmatic Gabi. In the midst of the young man's ongoing depression, Gabi seems like his soul mate. It seems, though, that nothing can be easy for Charlie. Gabi has already found her soul mate, although the guy she's with doesn't seem to have much of a soul. She's involved with Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen), a deeply unpleasant man who does not take kindly to the idea of Charlie stealing Gabi's heart.

As Charlie tries to navigate the unfamiliar streets of a foreign land, he runs into trouble at every corner. His roommates, including an aspiring adult film star (Rupert Grint), offer Charlie illegal substances that only heighten the sense of surreal confusion. Darko (Til Schweiger), a club owner who lives up to his intimidating name, is another big obstacle for Charlie. As he ends up pulled deeper and deeper into Romania's seedy criminal underworld, the Chicagoan has to make tough decisions about the path his future will take. All he really knows is that he wants what's best for Gabi. By the time he figures out what's best for her, Charlie might have to make a pretty major sacrifice.

Grint is famous for playing a comically clumsy teenage wizard in the "Harry Potter" franchise. LaBeouf has built his reputation on Disney shows and giant robots. This idiosyncratic and R-rated movie is a big image shift for both of these talented young actors. Grint's portrayal of Karl is funny and memorable, although it could stand to be a little more substantial. Meanwhile, LaBeouf brings a relatable quality to a role that runs the risk of being too dark for audiences to really connect with. The supporting cast is solid enough to anchor down even the wilder and more improbable moments of the plot. Keeping a balance between morbidity and humor is no easy feat, but Wood, Schweiger, Mikkelsen, and the rest of the cast manage to pull it off admirably.

"Charlie Countryman" is Bond's first full-length film. His background centers on commercial work. Bond has retained a lot of the quick, sleek energy common in commercials in his movie. He has a strong eye for visual detail, tossing in unnerving images that include an eyeball shifting around in a urinal drain. These otherworldly images are funny and weird at the same time, capturing the overall mood of "Charlie Countryman." A little manic and a little ominous in equal measure, the movie knows how to ramp up both the suspense and the laughs.

Bond's movie does have its flaws. Wood and LaBeouf don't quite have the levels of intense, dizzying chemistry that the film calls for. The plot sometimes seems to hurry the audience along before they can ask too many questions. As Bond grows and develops as a director, he will most likely learn how to balance his bold creativity and risk taking with a little more emotional nuance. For now, "Charlie Countryman" is a surprising and inventive film that invites viewers on an unexpected journey.

Rated 3 out of 5 stars