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The Minus Man

The Minus Man was in and out of theaters quickly in 1999, and for good reason. Americans (and Hollywood) seem to have a love-hate relationship with serial killers, occasionally glamorizing the violence committed by these people, or sometimes trying to get inside their heads to see what makes them act in such a disturbing way. But where such titles as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Silence of the Lambs, and Man Bites Dog are superior films dealing with the inner workings of the criminal mind, Hampton Fancher's The Minus Man comes up short. Fancher's film tells the story of Vann (Owen Wilson), a nice guy who just happens to poison people. He arrives in a small California town and quickly finds a room in the home of Jane and Doug (Mercedes Ruehl, Brian Cox), an innocuous married couple. Vann takes a job at the post office where he encounters Ferrin (Janeane Garofalo), a woman who is instantly attracted to the seemingly innocent man. The film drifts along through various plot tangents (wracked by guilt, Vann imagines two detectives who tell him that he's about to be caught; Doug adopts Vann as the son he never had and confides in him), but the lack of focus undermines whatever complexities Fancher tries to convey. Furthermore, for a character-driven film, these folks are fairly uninteresting. Wilson as Vann may be a nice guy, but by the end of the movie it's still not clear why he kills people, and Garofalo, usually appealing in most everything she does, is completely wasted here. Good transfer, DD 5.1. Of interest is an additional textual history of infamous serial killers throughout history, starting with Jack the Ripper and ending with Jeffrey Dahmer. It's creepy stuff, and the first of two theatrical trailers (which follows a couple who have just seen the movie around New York City discussing it all night, with a neat twist at the end), is actually more interesting than the film itself. Cast and crew notes, keep-case.

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