(director: Bryan Singer; screenwriter: Christopher McQuarrie; cinematographer: John Ottman; editor: John Ottman; music: John Ottman; cast: Stephen Baldwin (Michael McManus), Gabriel Byrne (Dean Keaton), Chazz Palminteri (Dave Kujan, US Customs), Kevin Spacey (Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint), Kevin Pollak (Todd Hockney), Benicio Del Toro (Fred Fenster), Pete Postlethwaite (Kobayashi), Giancarlo Esposito (Jack Baer), Suzy Amis (Edie Finneran), Dan Hedaya (Jeff Rabin), Carl Bressler (Saul Berg); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Michael McDonnell/Bryan Singer; MGM/UA Home Entertainment Inc.; 1995)

“Not to be believed for a NYC second.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Bryan Singer (“Apt Pupil”/”Public Access”) directs an overly complicated post-noir crime thriller based on the script by Christopher McQuarrie (a former detective) that’s too clever to be entertained as anything more than entertaining and not to be believed for a NYC second (or, for that matter explained without seeming incomprehensible and ridiculous). The film reminds me of a lesser version of Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

It deals with five notorious career New York City felons–Michael McManus (Stephen Baldwin), a hot-headed toughie, Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), an ex-cop gone bad and now trying to go legit as a businessman through being linked romantically with hottie criminal lawyer Edie Finneran (Suzy Amis), Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), a flashy hood who talks by slurring his words, Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak), a hard-nosed thug, and the supposedly stupid inconsequential blabbermouth ‘Verbal’ Kint (Kevin Spacey)–who are the usual suspects brought together in a police lineup for a crime they did not commit of a hijacked truck in Queens smuggling guns. They are harshly interrogated by Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) of US Customs, but released when there’s not enough evidence to charge them with the crime.

The film fast forwards to the present six weeks later and in Los Angeles there’s a boatload of corpses left on the dock from the Hungarian mafia and Verbal turns up as the only survivor among the NYC usual suspects. There’s also the question of $91 million in cocaine that could have been the reason for the rubout, until more facts are learned later on in the investigation. Verbal is a cripple suffering from some kind of palsy, who is a petty con artist. After telling what he knows to the LAPD is given immunity to testify, but the unreliable witness is further questioned by Agent Kujan and from the chatty Verbal’s point of view we go into flashback to learn how that hit went down that resulted in 27 casualties.

Verbal brings up the mysterious Turk assassin named Keyser Soze, who is reputed to be the criminal mastermind of this deadly California heist and a series of other ones involving the usual suspects. He’s Representative by Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite), who blackmails the boys to do Keyser Soze’s bidding or else. Soze, who might not exist except as myth, earned his violent reputation by allowing his family to be wiped out by Hungarian assassins rather than give in to their threats and later responded by wiping them all out.

Near the film’s conclusion Verbal opines, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” At this point the legendary figure of Sose is referred to as the Devil, whose powers have become mythical.

It leads to a startling twist ending, that did nothing for me because none of the characters caught my interest and the corker revealed seemed too far-fetched to give it much thought. It’s splendid junk, that was audaciously filmed and delivered as a manipulative puzzler that’s more convoluted than brainy.

REVIEWED ON 12/10/2005 GRADE: B-