[box cover]

Killing Zoe

Despite having snagged a Best Screenplay Oscar alongside friend Quentin Tarantino for 1994's Pulp Fiction, Roger Avary's own directorial debut that same year succeeds only in reminding the viewer of similar, and much much better, movies. Killing Zoe stars Eric Stoltz as Zed, an apathetic American safecracker visiting Paris to pull of a major bank heist with estranged boyhood friend Eric (greasy Jean-Hughes Anglade). Naturally, things go awry. Comparing Avary to Tarantino may be unfair, but it's inescapable. Both filmmakers draw on the same influences: French New Wave, American exploitation, and Hong Kong crime dramas. Tarantino, however, mixes these elements with a potent solution of existential self-awareness, ironic detachment, and pop-culture saturation. More importantly, however, Tarantino uses his engaging style as a backdrop for exploring complicated relationships between smart and aggressive characters wrestling with conflicts in their personal and professional loyalties. Alas, Avary goes nowhere near as far, settling for a superficially hip, heartless, paint-by-numbers nihilism that's as boring as it is misguided. Instead of developing relationships, Avary resorts to writing see-through dialogues in which his characters talk about their "relationships." As if to compensate for a lack of empathy, Avary loads Killing Zoe with gratuitous drugs and ultra-violence, which, when not flung about with disregard, feels perversely reverent of self-destruction — which is probably, sadly, the draw of any lame cult-following this film. Avary's half-assed assimilation of his scattered influences only makes one long for other movies. The botched bank robbery makes one yearn for Dog Day Afternoon, the hi-tech safe-cracking bits whet an appetite for Michael Mann's stunning crime sagas, the graphic violence makes one ache for Peckinpah (and even Brian DePalma's Scarface during the derivative demise of Pacino-built Anglade), and Anglade's scene-chewing hysteria is a pale shadow of Gary Oldman's frenzied performance in The Professional. But the worst is when Avary repeatedly raises the specter of Tarantino. The indifferent "connection" between Zed and prostitute Zoe (Julie Delpy) is a sham compared to the passionate slacker-whore love story in True Romance, as are the assumed but pallid bonds between fellow criminals, and Avary's flip depiction of potentially fatal drug use is flaccid next to the harrowing overdose in Pulp Fiction. But worst of all, Avary's characters lack the wit and rapport of his vastly more talented friend's creations. The scenes before the heist drag on, filled with mind-bogglingly dull small-talk of the type that Tarantino makes crackle and quotable. And when some little gem does emerge — actually, this writer can only think of one such moment — one gets an eerie suspicion that's the day Executive Producer Tarantino made a set visit. Artisan's Killing Zoe is a fine-looking disc in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with Dolby 2.0 Surround. Comes with trailers and textual supplements, including schizophrenic production notes in which Avary somehow omits Tarantino's influence in getting him the job.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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