Friday 5 October 2018

Reptilian charms: "Blue Iguana"

Here is a very bizarre film, and a very bizarre career. The name of writer-director Hadi Hajaig first appeared on your correspondent's radar around the time of 2002's The Late Twentieth, one of the more comically slipshod crime movies scattered by British filmmakers in the wake of Guy Ritchie's rise to prominence. I honestly thought I'd never hear from him again, but Hajaig went away, had a rethink, then returned with 2005's Puritan, a not unstylish, halfway interesting mystery featuring Ritchie lynchpin Nick Moran as a phoney medium. That plucky indie endeavour landed him a studio gig, making 2012's Taken-influenced thriller Cleanskin for Warner Bros. with a post-Game of Thrones Sean Bean in the Liam Neeson role, yet its swift commercial nosedive seemed to have left Hajaig adrift and casting around for ideas. How he ended up securing the funding for Blue Iguana, of all the possible ideas, may be a story more compelling than anything the resultant feature puts up on screen. This is an Atlantic-hopping caper that carries a strong air of contrivance from its opening diner scene, all too visibly shot no further West than Wembley, then artlessly patched in to explain why American guest stars Sam Rockwell and Ben Schwartz find themselves heading to your actual London to involve themselves in a nonsensical who's-got-the-loot runaround involving several dodgy geezers and a passing Simon Callow.

That plot is so hard to pin down in terms of motivation - apparently rewriting itself minute-by-minute - that you might wonder whether this was a deliberate, Beat the Devil-style choice. Yet nothing else on show quite backs up that bold conceptual leap: it just doesn't have a script so much as a tattered and stained envelope covered with haphazard and half-formed ideas. That the whole is far from a total write-off is largely down to the actors, who - when not having to burn through the reams of exposition this plot requires - fall into funny rhythms and patterns that get the film past the hour mark, if not much further. Eccentric affection blossoms between Rockwell's greasy Danny Ocean wannabe Eddie and Phoebe Fox as the handler who spends most of her scenes eating, and submits at one point to a weird Ally Sheedy-in-The Breakfast Club makeover that renders her far less striking than she was in the "before" phase; a subplot pairs Schwartz, whose yammering line delivery is almost as great a joy here as it was in the immortal role of Parks & Rec's Jean-Ralphio, with a leopardprint-adorned Amanda Donohoe as a maneating landlady. (Told you it was bizarre.) As Puritan demonstrated, Hajaig has an eye for warm, colourful images: the bulk of the crims' stakeout activities takes place in a loft that rivals the set in New Girl for leftfield soft furnishings, and a sequence in which Rockwell devours a bowl of raspberry ripple ice cream somehow pops with far more dynamism than all the bluntly cut, perfunctorily staged action. After four films and sixteen years, I'm still not sure Hajaig entirely knows what he's doing or where his strengths lie - he might just be a painter and decorator who took a strange turn - but as utterly inessential, fly-by-night digital content goes, Blue Iguana succeeds in being oddly watchable, even likable.

Blue Iguana opens in selected cinemas today, ahead of its DVD release on Monday.

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