The start of this grim fairy tale – adapted by David Mamet from his own 1982 play – is ominous in more ways than one. Not only does the titular salaryman’s encounter with a clairvoyant convince him to change his life – he immediately abandons his unsuspecting wife (Rebecca Pidgeon, naturally) for the neon-lit mean streets of sin city and, inevitably, a long, dark night of the soul – but the heavily brooding atmospherics hint that we, like Edmond (William H Macy, naturally), may be in for a confusing, even bruising ordeal.
For, as the wide-eyed everyman follows the advice of a barfly (Joe Mantegna…) by visiting bars and bordellos in search of revitalising sex, it’s impossible to tell whether the endless humiliations he suffers or his subsequent manic exhilaration at rediscovering his ‘masculine’ ability to take control is meant as a metaphor for the alienated plight of modern man or as satirical black comedy. That it’s hardly funny suggests the former; that it’s absurdly overwrought the latter. Either way, the film fatally duplicates not only the casual sexism of its white males, but also – in its crude depiction of various black characters – the racism to which they give characteristically repetitive Mametian voice. There’s homophobia, too, of course; and if the coda’s deep irony mitigates against such charges, that doesn’t stop the rest of the movie leaving a sour taste.
Representational ethics apart, the film piles cliché upon cliché, and any claims its authors may make to its serving as a parable are undermined by the ludicrously compressed and melodramatic nature of Edmond’s odyssey. But be thankful it’s not longer; at 80 minutes, one may still derive some perverse pleasure from the silliness of it all.