Before I render an opinion here, let me share my bona fides.
Last year I watched several superhero movies. These movies’ plots are designed to set up battle events involving various weapons and lots of computer-generated imagery. Nobody goes to superhero movies because of the plots, which is good because the plots stink.
The plot of “American Violence” is worse than the plot of a superhero movie, and it doesn’t have fun CGI to distract the viewer from that fact.
In short, “American Violence” is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.
The story, and its generic-sounding title, imply that the movie is violent, and in this it delivers. There are scenes of torture, stabbings, shootouts and prison rape, as well as implied scenes of child molestation.
These moments are surprisingly unmoving, given the ludicrous nature of the script, which pretends to be a thoughtful examination of the morality of the death penalty, but whose elements are so contrived that they cannot be taken seriously.
The setup is that Denise Richards, here playing a criminal psychologist, is asked to advise the governor of Texas on whether he should cancel the scheduled execution of a convicted murderer. The governor is facing political resistance to capital punishment.
This is amusing for at least two reasons:
— There is no keen opposition to capital punishment in Texas. The state has executed 93 murderers since 2010, two since January 1 of this year. The number of killings ascribed to the inmate in the movie, if they resulted in prosecutions and guilty verdicts, would make him ineligible for a sentence review.
— Denise Richards is unconvincing as a professor of psychology. Her hair, light brown with lovely blonde highlights, is long and falls in ringlets that must take a hairdresser hours to arrange each day. She has perfectly arched eyebrows, a suspiciously full mouth and, always, great lighting. It may be that the film’s makeup crew chose to present her as a movie star, but her acting skills are not sufficient to convince an audience that she is anything more.
The death-row inmate, played by Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau, is interviewed by the psychologist, who discovers that he is very intelligent and highly self-controlled. The justification for his crimes is that he has been double-crossed repeatedly by unindicted criminals who face no legal consequences for their corruption — doctors, lawyers and a prison warden played by Bruce Dern, seemingly a total whack job but actually quite devious and evil.
The plot pulls so many rabbits out of hats that it is difficult to watch the movie without laughing. Its unrealistic constructs pile up, one on another, and completely invalidate the faux-serious death-penalty commentary that is supposed to end the film.
It’s a total mess. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
One bit player is Rob Gronkowski, who acquits himself well in a few on-camera minutes as a straight-faced, pistol-shooting guard. In real life, he is a tight end for the New England Patriots who was forced by injury to sit out last night’s Super Bowl.
Gronk has a winsome personality that has earned him a loyal base of fans who would support him if he decides to take up acting as his second career. If he wants to succeed at this, however, he will need to hire a discerning agent who will not send along scripts like the one for “American Violence.”