If you can’t get enough of Shia LaBeouf, this is the movie for you; he’s in practically every scene. Actually, Charlie Countryman is good both for those who like LaBeouf and for those who hate him. Through the course of this confusing neo-noir romance, his character is beaten up more than once, gets hit by a car, is tasered, has a broken wineglass held too close to his neck, and must spend half of a trans-Atlantic flight with a dead guy in the seat next to him.
A working title for the film was The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, which would not only have been more interesting but more thematically appropriate, explaining the poundings LaBeouf goes through as some kind of penance. The film kicks off with LaBeouf’s Charlie, an aimless twentysomething, pulling the plug on his mother, who has been left brain dead after an accident of some kind. Charlie had run from the room during his mom’s final moments, but he then sees her in a vision where she advises him to go to Bucharest, Rumania. Since the mother is played by excellent character actress Melissa Leo making the most of her few scenes, Charlie listens to her and hops on a plane.
En route he meets Victor Ibanescu (Ion Caramitru) who, after a brief conversation with Charlie, promptly drops dead. Victor then has his own post-mortem conversation with Charlie, and yes, someone makes a Sixth Sense joke somewhere along the way.
The rest of the movie is way too complicated to even summarize, but there’s a romance between Charlie and Victor’s daughter Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood); gangsters and bad guys (Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen as Nigel, Til Schweiger as strip club owner Darko); and some comic byplay with Rupert Grint of Harry Potter fame, as a wannabe porn star who overdoses on Rumanian Viagra, and motor-mouthed James Buckley. Grint and Buckley play Ecstasy-dropping doofuses who befriend Charlie, and I’d say they were peripheral to the plot if there was one to be peripheral to.
First-time director Fredrik Bond may have thought he was making a stylish multi-genre mashup, and there are glints of visual virtuosity in the aerial shots of beautiful Bucharest and some of the nighttime scenes of debauchery (the many naked girls and the violence earn Charlie Countryman its R rating). But he’s let down by Matt Drake’s repetitive, far-fetched script. The creative team might have been shooting for the entire film to play as some kind of guilt-induced fever dream, or they may simply have had no real control over the film’s clashing tones; it’s hard to tell.
The one through-line that works is the Charlie-Gabi romance, and it’s a credit to LaBeouf’s intensity and Wood’s wary, cool sensuality that it’s as compelling as it is. I really believed that these two suddenly parent-less people would see their salvation in each other, and would strive toward a happy ending despite the menacing/farcical complications around them. But very little else in the movie has any weight, despite good work from the actors.
The DVD contains a “making of” featurette but not many other extras; it’s also available in a Blu-ray format. So if 103 minutes in Shia LaBeouf’s company is your idea of a good time, knock yourself out. The rest of us non-Shiaphiles will wait for him to appear in a movie that doesn’t spend so much of its time trying to prove how cool it is.