Let me tell you about a movie that is so very bad. It’s a movie where characters move in and out of false accents continuously. It’s a movie where logic is secondary to forward momentum, where the mystery is paramount and reality only gets in the way. It’s a movie which purports to be involved in the mechanics of the legal system, yet treats the law as a joke except in instances when it needs an excuse to make its characters’ paths intersect. It’s a movie with major stars at the bottom of their game. It’s a movie which leaves me in complete disbelief at the thought that anybody with an appreciation for artistry or simple competence could ever find anything within to champion. That movie, ladies and gentleman, is Fracture.
But now that we’re on the subject, that’s also a pretty good description of In the Valley of… er, I mean, In the Electric Mist, an unsurprisingly direct-to-DVD mess starring John Goodman as a vague mob boss and movie producer alongside Tommy Lee Jones as – what else? – a police officer. Jones is Dave Robicheaux, a cop who doesn’t play by the rules, hot on the trail of a perverse serial killer who has been killing young women… all while investigating a murder that took place almost a half century ago. This all takes place in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for no reason at all.
That thing about the serial murder? It almost seems like an afterthought. Actually, scratch that, everything that happens in the film almost seems like an afterthought. It’s entirely unclear what the intent of the film is, and horrendous editing which at times honestly feels like random shots stitched together haphazardly does little to help. Peter Sarsgaard shows up as a movie star who hangs out with Dave on occasion, just because. There’s an incredible scene where Sarsgaard’s girlfriend runs up to Dave’s house in a panic, yelling that they’ve got to do something to help her boyfriend. Cut to him on a boat, preparing to go out in the rain. Oh no! Don’t you know you’ll catch your death of cold, Pete? Meanwhile, Dave is getting so caught up in this bifurcated murder mystery that he’s beginning to have delusions. The ghost of a Civil War veteran appears to him with the intent of offering cryptic advice, and the lack of explanation for this is not even the most baffling part of the ghost’s appearance.
That’s all pretty plain, I suppose, but its inter-cut with the story of how Dave breaks every law known to man without facing any repercussions. He slashes the tires on a car (which causes it to be towed away immediately – tow trucks in this town just sit around looking for cars with flat tires), then beats a man in a fancy restaurant; the owner only asks that they keep the swearing to a minimum. He takes another man into a public restroom, smashing his face bloody in an effort to get assumed information. He picks locks, plants evidence, removes other evidence from a crime scene, and always leaves his fingerprints all over the place. I guess we’re supposed to see his actions as the morally ambiguous resolve of the good-at-heart; is it any wonder that the movie was released the same year as Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans? But there’s a difference between Nicolas Cage smoking crack and Tommy Lee Jones firing seven shots at a car that had a flash of light that might have been a gunshot… and then remaining on the case even though it initially appears that he’s killed an unarmed civilian. There’s a difference between Cage picking up prostitutes and Tommy Lee Jones entering the home of a friend who was murdered, being left alone in the crime scene, and removing items from the scene. And the difference is that what Tommy Lee Jones is doing could never happen.
If only the movie portrayed real life. In real life, when an FBI agent partners with a local cop (this is a common practice throughout the U.S., of course), she is unlikely to stand by silently as the cop handcuffs a man accused of no crime and hits him in the head with an aluminum baseball bat. The bat, by the way, produces but a trickle of blood on the victim’s forehead. In real life, if this local cop killed a man and then planted a weapon on the body because, come on, everybody knows he was the killer, there would be a serious discussion about maybe you should be serving some time in federal prison yourself Dave Robicheaux. And in real life, if you were the one link between a series of grisly murders, you would not only be taken off the case but certainly be considered a suspect.
Perhaps the egregious nature of the policework done in the film could have been forgiven, or lessened slightly, if the rest of the movie made any sense whatsoever. Goodman’s character, who goes by the name “Baby Feet” (don’t ask me why), serves no purpose. The movie star, again, is useless. Dave’s quest to solve a forty-year old murder case is totally superfluous. And all of this so damn poorly handled that it’s difficult to tell whether anything was truly solved at the film’s conclusion. There’s no sense that Ah-ha! It’s all coming together now! Instead, the feeling is much more along the lines of Oh. It’s all… something… together now? The culprit might just as well have been a dwarf in a red coat; the effect would have been about the same. Along the way, Dave drinks Dr. Pepper laced with LSD and everybody shrugs it off. Mostly it gives him the opportunity to say the stupidest line in the film: “I think there’s two ways of looking at the idea of understanding. One is if you don’t look you never will see. And the other is, if you look a little less you’ll understand a hell of a lot more.”
Perhaps I’m not being clear enough here. In the Electric Mist is awful. It’s awful. It’s not so bad it’s good, it’s just.. just so bad. The story is not only terrible, it’s incomprehensible as well. The actors provide nothing. Did I mention the score? Yeah, it’s putrid. It’s one thing to fail with a stupid comedy like the Happy Madison production Strange Wildnerness (currently holding the coveted 0% on RottenTomatoes), but to make something that’s supposed to be taken seriously and to miss the mark this miserably really deserves some kind of award.