The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
Tony Scott's "Man on Fire" employs superb craftsmanship and a powerful Denzel Washington performance in an attempt to elevate genre material above its natural level, but it fails. The underlying story isn't worth the effort. At first we're seduced by the jagged photography and editing, which reminds us a little of "City of God" and "21 Grams." We're absorbed by Washington's character, an alcoholic with a past he cannot forgive himself for. And we believe the relationship he slowly develops with the young Mexico City girl he's hired to protect. But then the strong opening levels out into a long series of action scenes, and the double-reverse ending works more like a gimmick than a resolution.
The screenplay is by Brian Helgeland, whose work on "Mystic River" dealt with revenge in deep, painful personal terms. But this time action formulas take over. The hero outshoots and outsmarts half the bad guys in Mexico City. He seems to be homeless, yet has frequent changes of wardrobe and weaponry, even producing a shoulder-mounted missile launcher when necessary. And as he plows his way through the labyrinth of those responsible for kidnapping the girl, the body count becomes a little ridiculous, and Washington's character, who seemed very human, begins uncomfortably to resemble an invulnerable superhero. Sure, he gets shot now and again, but can you walk around Mexico City as an accused cop-killer and outgun professional killers indefinitely?
When it seems that everyone who could possibly be killed is dead and the movie must surely be over, there's another whole chapter. We count those still alive, and ask ourselves if the Law of Economy of Characters applies: That's the one that says a movie contains no unnecessary characters, and so the otherwise unexplained presence of a star in a seemingly insignificant role will be richly explained by the end.
All of this is true, and yet the movie has real qualities. Denzel Washington creates a believable, sympathetic character here -- a character complex enough to deserve more than fancy action scenes. Even the last scene involving his character is a disappointment; there's a moment when one thing and one thing only should happen to him, and it doesn't, and the movie lets him, and us, down gently.