Shia LaBeouf plays an American hitting up Romania in "Charlie Countryman." Credit: Millenium Entertainment
‘Charlie Countryman’ Director: Frederick Bond Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood Rating: R 1 Globe (out of 5)
It’s a requirement of any young actor who achieves maximum exposure to tarnish his or her image with something “edgy.” Shia LaBeouf has gone farther than most: His film with Lars Von Trier, “Nymphomaniac,” which touts actual hardcore sex — along with the cinematic musings of Lars Von Trier — is soon to make its international debut. For now, there’s “Charlie Countryman,” which is more run-of-the-mill transgressive, even if it frequently goes pretty nuts — or at least uselessly zany.
LaBeouf plays Charlie, a young man whose mother (Melissa Leo) has just died. He can also apparently talk to ghosts. She tells him to go to Bucharest — not for any discernible reason, although possibly because it’s famously cheap for film shoots. On the plane he sits next to a garrulous Romanian, who dies. More importantly for Charlie, his daughter, Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood), is hot. She’s also the kept lover of a fearsome mafioso (Mads Mikkelsen). But true love — or whatever Charlie thinks happened in the tiny amount of time he’s known her — can’t be stopped by a grotesquely violent thug with connections to crooked, sadistic cops.
The script throws in all manner of nastiness, plus a pair of bickering, hedonistic Brits (James Buckley and Rupert Grint — the latter also trying to upend his boyish image). But the movie moves in very tiny circles: Charlie woos Gabi against all — seriously, all — better judgment, her betrothed gets angry, British guys act like drunk morons. The original title was “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman.” And though Charlie acts like an arrogant, entitled Ugly American, it becomes immediately clear that the title was hacked up for a reason.
The director Frederik Bond previously directed videos for Moby. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, it was de rigueur for critics to hang directors who used to make music videos, accusing them of making flashy, purely stylish work, all while ignoring their artistry. But Bond really is that kind of empty-headed imagist. His shots are either kinetic or “crazy,” and far, far too much of the running time is eaten up by our would-be lovers running through the streets in slow motion to sad-empowering M83 and M83-style music. Say what you will about LaBeouf — and he and especially Wood are better than they deserve — but at least he was smart enough to move on to an actual filmmaker.