To watch “Domino” is to be pummeled with relentless audio-visual tomfoolery for two hours. I knew Tony Scott, director of “Top Gun,” “Enemy of the State” and “Crimson Tide,” liked his movies full of motion and chaos, but when did he commence his all-crack diet? It’s like someone smashed open a piÃ±ata full of film-school devices and Tony Scott knocked over the other kids to get everything for himself. Oliver Stone, on his best day, couldn’t make a movie this incoherent.
The opening titles tell us it’s “based on a true story — sort of,” and I can verify that there was indeed a female bounty hunter named Domino Harvey who died at age 35 earlier this year, when the film about her was already finished. How much of “Domino” is faithful to her life, I have no idea, though I am relatively sure she never held two cast members of “Beverly Hills 90210” hostage while she oversaw the hacking off of another man’s arm. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green.)
Domino (Keira Knightley) is a disaffected, spoiled girl with a gold-digging mother (Jacqueline Bisset) who moves them from England to Beverly Hills (Mom’s a fan of a certain teen soap opera) in the hopes of landing a rich new husband. Domino couldn’t care less about money, though; she thrives on disorder and violence. An instructional seminar on how to become a bounty hunter catches her eye, and soon she is on the staff of bail bondsman Claremont Williams (Delroy Lindo).
Domino tells us in her narration (being given, in a framing story, to an FBI agent played by Lucy Liu) that Claremont is Charlie to three angels: a brooding Latino named Choco (Edgar Ramirez), a father figure named Ed (Mickey Rourke), and Domino herself. They have an Afghan driver who ferries them from one job to the next, and they are remarkably efficient in their work.
Trouble arises when Claremont, who also runs an armored-car service, tries to pull a fast one on a client with Mafia connections. Involved are Claremont’s three “sassy black mistresses,” played by Mo’Nique, Shondrella Avery and Macy Gray, as well as a fourth member of their team, the very gay Raul (Joe Nunez). Also involved are a quartet of frat boys and dropouts seeking fake IDs from the DMV office where the Mo’Nique character works.
Meanwhile, Domino’s crew is being followed by WB network cameras and the afore-referenced “90210” stars as part of a reality show about bounty hunters (masterminded by a network exec played, with something less than his usually oddness, by Christopher Walken) — which means much of what transpires is caught on tape.
The film, with an over-the-top, at times incomprehensible screenplay by “Donnie Darko’s” Richard Kelly, is a marvel of editing, sound and music. Sometimes a line of narration is looped and repeated, just for emphasis. Some shots have washed-out color, others are filmed at rakish angles, much of it is cut together in rapid-fire succession. Then there’s a sequence in the desert where Tom Waits shows up and offers mystical, quasi-religious advice to the heroes — which would be disorienting even if it were presented normally, let alone with swooshing cameras and spastic editing.
Scott’s peculiar presentation of the material is fun for a while, but it eventually grows wearisome, a case where style, however nifty it may be at first, cannot compensate for a shallow story. I just re-read what I wrote in my review of his last film, “Man on Fire”: “I don’t recall his jittery, gritty style bothering me before, but ‘Man on Fire’ seems to be his magnum opus of spastic filmmaking, a veritable grand mal seizure of quick cuts, swirling close-ups and over-caffeinated movement.”
Well, “Domino” is the new magnum opus. What Scott and his cinematographer and team of editors have done is impressive technically, but it only matters if it’s in the service of a screenplay that deserves such attention. This one doesn’t.
C- (2 hrs., 7 min.; )