Thursday, 11 August 2011

Hanging with Mr. Cooper: "The Devil's Double"

The Devil's Double feels like a tawdry soft-shoe shuffle across a monster's grave. Lee Tamahori's drama purports to tell the true story of Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper), a soldier and family man drafted in, in the mid-1980s, to serve as the public double for that goofily psychotic son-of-Saddam Uday Hussein (Cooper again). The downside of Latif's new post is having to undergo corrective facial surgery, and wear a dental prosthetic to replicate his doppelganger's gappy teeth. The positive is the access the post grants to the Hussein family's inner sanctum. Rolexs, silk pyjamas, the undulations of myriad concubines - we're supposed to be seduced by all this, too.

The film is thus in part another bling fantasy, but it's a flimsy one, permitting no moderation between its extremes: Latif remains throughout as honorable as Uday does shouty and syphilitic. Though the latter is the role Cooper's dubious good looks perhaps deserve, there's just too much of him in too many scenes that require Uday to hoover up cocaine while Latif sits brooding in the background, his head in his hands. The construction is broad and sloppy: there's no reason for the French actress Ludivine Sagnier, sporting cartoonish, Nicki Minaj-like wigs in a bid to conceal her essential blondeness, to be playing Uday's notionally Persian squeeze, and no real reason for Tamahori to be behind the camera, save that it will presumably have made his bank account appear a little healthier.

All this excess gets the better of the director, too: he doesn't seem to realise it's not the best idea to stage the climactic showdown between his leads in the middle of a dancefloor of revellers Uday has ordered to strip at gunpoint, because the crucial narrative and character development simply gets lost amid a forest of boobs and bums. I fear we have the success of TV's Rome and The Tudors to thank for the film's leering, gloating tone, its delight in torture and carnage, its determination to turn history into one long prick-measuring competition. You flick disinterestedly through The Devil's Double as you would through a supermarket tabloid or an episode of Tigris Shore, which is about the editorial level it operates at: compared to this, Tamahori's previous XXX2: State of the Union - which gave us the immortal sight of tubby old Ice Cube surfing on the roof of a train - looks like an op-ed in the Washington Post.

The Devil's Double is in cinemas nationwide.

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