Crushingly, the dependably perverse art-action director Nicolas Winding Refn has finally made a boring movie. It hurts. In fairness, you can’t say that Only God Forgives doesn’t bear the high-gloss control of Refn’s expert crime fantasia Drive (2011), along with its zombified star, Ryan Gosling, here a Bangkok boxing-club owner. The new one also plunges us into sickening violence, another of the filmmaker’s go-tos, and there’s a buzzing, hallucinogenic quality to all the cheesy red-and-pink decor, joined by karaoke versions of Thai ballads. Essentially, Refn has flown his star to the Far East and surrounded him with a thick atmosphere of Kubrickian menace, adding a psychosexually taunting Kristin Scott Thomas (as the world’s worst mom) for spice.
But someone forgot to pack a screenplay and a sense of humor. Usually, there’s a counterbalance to Refn’s sharklike protagonists—an Albert Brooks, say, gifted with criminal gab—to let us in on the solemn joke. This time, the mood is damn near oppressive and as this gorgeous vision makes its way (leisurely) to a mano-a-mano between Gosling’s avenging tough guy and the blank-faced corrupt police chief (Vithaya Pansringarm) who had his dirtbag brother killed, you’ll find yourself stifling yawns as well as unintended giggles. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, yet these slowly spiraling showdowns are old hat, no matter how tensely scored by synth whiz Cliff Martinez, extending his range. Refn’s elliptical side has gotten the better of him; he’s hung his enthusiasms on too slender a branch. Be godlike and find a way to forgive—there’s too much talent here to dismiss.
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