Have you ever wondered what True Romance would be like without all the violence and drugs and suspense and passion and sweary monologues? Well, wonder no longer… the cure for your curiosity is called Watching the Detectives (2007).
This straight-to-DVD, quasi-romantic comedy stars Cillian Murphy as the impish owner of a video store that specialises in old-timey classics and obscure cult flicks, catering to a clientele of geeky, slacker-types. He “meets-cute” (“meet-cutes”?) with Lucy Liu’s quirky-cool croupier when she visits his store, looking for a video to entertain an infirm friend… who may or may not actually exist. See, the thing with Liu’s character is that she believes every day should be a pulse-pounding, edge-of-the-seat adventure, so she seems to spend all her time and energy stacking up a Jenga tower of lies and pranks, just to see how far she can go before they all topple down on the people around her. Her dalliance with Murphy is less of a courtship, and more of a cruel sociopathic experiment, as she lures him into committing increasingly dangerous criminal acts, just to keep him hooked on the adrenaline rush they share… before the inevitable crash that comes when he wises up and realises he’s been tricked all over again, dagnabbit!
As a story, it doesn’t really work, because there’s no arc here… just a cycle of psychological and emotional abuse masquerading as flirtation… but as a showcase for Liu’s lighter side, it works remarkably well. Although she’s played several characters with a (sometimes well-hidden) warm-and-fuzzy side in the past, I don’t think she’s ever played anyone as straight-up cute and chirpy as this before. The scene where she pretends to be drunk in a restaurant, just to see if Murphy will take advantage of her, is the most adorable thing I’ve *ever* seen her do on-screen… and yes, I am counting the ferret impression from Charlie’s Angels 2. It’s just a shame her character couldn’t confine herself to minor deceptions and petty crime, because she starts to look a damn sight less adorable when she drags her plaything/boyfriend into “defending her honour” by attacking a man she’s misled him to believe is an uber-jealous ex-boyfriend… and as soon as he’s forgiven her for that, she cons him into holding up a couple of dangerous gangsters with a toy pistol! Oy… she really seemed to be working hard to put the “fatal” back into “femme fatale”.
[Note: The featured photo of Liu comes from a single, ten second-long flashback, during a (presumably fabricated) anecdote about all the musicians she’s dated. She doesn’t actually dress like that at any other point in the movie… but I thought she looked awesome, so suck it up.]
[Random speculation: If this film had been released a decade earlier, it would have starred Jason Lee and Joey Lauren Adams… and with a script-polish from Kevin Smith, it might have actually been given a theatrical release!]