Western Lies

Swedish director's first English language film is a Mammoth mistake

Mammoth *1/2 At 7:10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27 and 8:45 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque cia.edu/cinematheque

When Sweden's Lukas Moodysson burst onto the art-house scene a decade or so ago, he seemed like one of the brightest new lights in contemporary cinema. Films like Show Me Love, Together and Lila 4-Ever were deeply humanistic, yet rigorously unsentimental evocations of life as we know/live it. Moodysson stumbled with 2005's ghastly, well-nigh unwatchable A Hole in My Heart, though, and he continues his precipitous slide with the nearly as bad Mammoth, his first English-language effort.

Yet another "We-Are-the-World" collage movie from the globe-spinning Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, Amores Perros) playbook, Mammoth is so banal and fussily over-determined that it almost makes Valentine's Day seem profound by comparison. In the opening scene, New York City yuppies Leo (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Ellen (Michelle Williams) make such a fuss over their bratty eight-year-old daughter Jackie (Sophie Nyweide) that you just know they're overcompensating for something. Because both parents are workaholics (she's an emergency-room doctor; he's some kind of Internet mogul), most of Jackie's life is spent in the care of her saintly Filipino nanny Gloria (Marife Necesito).

Moodysson's connect-the-dots nar-rative kicks in once Leo flies off to Thailand with his partner Bob (Tom McCarthy) for a business trip. During the flight, Bob presents Leo with a $3,000 pen made from extinct mammoth elephant tusks. (The pen is Moodysson's none-too-subtle commentary about how corrupt Westerners exploit innocents, whether defenseless mammoths, dirt-poor Filipinos and Thai sex workers.) Gloria pines for her two young sons who live with her mother back in the Philippines. She sends them money to build a new house, but the physical separation is causing her irreparable guilt. Ellen, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly jealous of the intimate bond between Gloria and Jackie. There's more maternal guilt in Thailand, where Leo befriends bargirl/struggling single mom Cookie (Run Srinikornchot). Needless to say, nothing good comes from their one-night stand.

Moodysson pumps up the melodrama by (heavy-handedly) crosscutting between Leo and Cookie; Gloria, Jackie and Ellen in New York; and Gloria's kids. You keep waiting for something really terrible to happen, and the movie becomes one extended sadistic tease. When tragedy finally does strike, it's less shocking than merely absurd.

Moodysson's script has the unfortunate effect of making his terrific actors appear terminally dim, mostly because the dialogue is so tin-eared and the situations so consistently risible.

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