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On Movies: Talky black comedy 'Cosmopolis' falls flat

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 6, 2012 - Robert Pattinson, who is Edward the empathetic vampire in the "Twilight" movies, also plays a pale-faced bloodsucker in "Cosmopolis."

This cold-hearted, claustrophobic, maddeningly talky black comedy is set in the computer-driven world of international finance. Pattinson's character, Eric Packer, is a frighteningly smart, hideously wealthy young hedge-fund wizard who works and practically lives in a stretch limo. The behemoth of a car slowly cruises the streets of Manhattan while Eric places multi-million dollar bets on microsecond fluctuations in financial markets.

On the day we meet Eric, he finds himself on the wrong end of a massive bet on the movement of the Chinese Yuan. Outside the limo, as it carries Eric through the canyons of the city, anarchists from time to time assemble, waving signs, shouting anti-capitalist slogans, and spraying rude graffiti on the exterior of the limo.

Eric ignores the anarchists, even when they set the limo to rocking. He has bigger worries, including a warning from what we gather is a network of informants that someone wants to kill him. For the great part of the movie, Eric doesn't budge from the limo as he eats, drinks, takes meetings, works the phone, uses the pullout bathroom facilities, and is given a prostate massage by his personal physician. He has sex with his art dealer (Juliette Binoche) as they discuss the possible purchase of the Mark Rothko Chapel, an invaluable landmark of the Houston art establishment. I hadn't heard it was for sale, but these days, who knows.

But mainly people talk, mostly about the contemporary world and how to prevail in it, and what to buy next. Some of the talk seems to strike a point, not necessarily an original one -- "Nobody in America hates the rich," says Eric. "Everybody thinks they're 10 seconds from being rich themselves." Too much of the talk is incomprehensible to someone not schooled in the nuances of the software-driven acquisition of large sums of money.

It doesn't help that Pattinson is not a very good actor. And his monologues -- and even his conversations are essentially monologues -- may have looked good on the page of the original Don DeLillo novel, but they don't always resemble actual human speech.

Toward the end, Pattinson gets out of the limo and interacts with ordinary people, including an angry, homeless former employee (Paul Giamatti) who seems to have stumbled into the film from an early play by Edward Albee. In fact, the whole movie, drenched as it is in speechifying, much of it fueled by resentment, feels like it wants to be a play in a small experimental theater.

"Cosmopolis" was written and directed by David Cronenberg, the former horrormeister who is one of the most consistently interesting filmmakers working today. Beginning in the 1990s with "Crash" (not to be confused with the 2005 Oscar winner of the same name) and continuing through such recent films as "A History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises," Cronenberg has dealt with serious and controversial topics while never losing the ability to tell a compelling story.

Last year's "A Dangerous Method," about the complicated relationship between Sigmund Freud, his former disciple Carl Jung and a sexually needy female patient, had its moments, but didn't hold together very well. The same could be said for the new film, except the moments are fewer, and the narrative structure veers from forced to incoherent.

"Cosmopolis" has to be considered pretty much a failure, with long stretches of arid dialogue relieved by occasional moments of wit or pungent social commentary. Overall, the characters and the film simply fail to engage either the heart or the mind.

Opens Friday Sept. 7