Alice Eve and Stanley Tucci are the only stars of Neil LaBute's "Some Velvet Morning." Credit: Rogier Stoffers
‘Some Velvet Morning’ Director: Neil LaBute Stars: Alice Eve, Stanley Tucci Rating: R 2 (out of 5) Globes
Once upon a time, Neil LaBute was a major cultural force — a badboy playwright whose shocking, Mamet knockoffs led to shocking, Mamet-knockoff films, like “In the Company of Men” and “Your Friends and Neighbors.” How he came to direct, negligibly, titles like “Possession” and the much-mocked remake of “The Wicker Man” is of interest only to his fans.
For the record, he’s been trying to get back into his old groove, only with less of his once patented toxic cynicism. “Some Velvet Morning” is not adapted from one of his plays, as was “The Shape of Things,” but it feels like it. Alice Eve plays a woman of mysterious vocation who spends part of a late weekday morning chatting with a surprise visitor: a former lover (Stanley Tucci) who shows up with packed bags. The precise details of their relationship are parceled out slowly, and it’s impossible to discuss the film without revealing its surprise twist, which aims for O. Henry and hits a hair above M. Night Shyamalan.
But what’s interesting is watching (or hearing, really) LaBute trying to (mostly) avoid his earlier, pessimistic self while trying to struggling, sometimes painfully, something new, maybe even periodically tender. The two go back and forth, reveling in nasty passive aggression (him) and furtive, manipulative evil (her). It’s mostly for naught, especially once the old LaBute belatedly rears its ugly face, and how.
But he’s good with actors — or at least wrangling up fine actors. Tucci’s excellence is predictable, but Eve — who, in “Starter For 10” and even “Star Trek Into Darkness,” demonstrated a Marilyn Monroe-ish talent of using her cartoonish beauty to surprise us with comic chops — is the real star. One minute she seems oblivious, then cagey, then manipulative, then vulnerable, all without breaking a sweat. It’s a smooth performance and one of the few reasons to last through to the very end, even after a moment that all but invites you to bail.