So here is my review of Phone Booth. Colin Farrell plays a real jerk and Kiefer Sutherland is a disgruntled whatever who we never see because he’s a sniper who wants to kill Colin Farrell for no real reason because he’s disgruntled, you see. Actually you don’t see him but you get the point. Oh wait, I’m reviewing the wrong film. Grand Piano is the film that’s exactly like Phone Booth but which the filmmakers would rather you compare it to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. In all fairness to Grand Piano, which also has hints of that same kind of tension found in Phone Booth, Crimson Tide, Speed, Apollo 13, Duel and yes, The Man Who Knew Too Much—films in which the main characters had to work their way out of an impossible situation, sometimes in an enclosed space—does have some good things going for it. Grand Piano contains a certain amount of cleverness, good timing while moving at a rapid pace, and is filled with lots of tension that keeps you engaged throughout much of the film.
The real surprise is Jon Cusack playing Clem, the sniper trying to kill Elijah Woods’ character Tom Selznick, who you don’t see until the very end. While hardly the kind of role Cusack is noted for, he manages to keep that convincing creepy vibe going for the entire film, which is the source of the tension in this psychological thriller, all taking place in a grand concert hall. But even with all that going for it, Grand Piano really loses its momentum with its very weak ending that would be best described as going to a concert, hearing great music by a great band, then having them close their set with fillers and B-sides. Yeah, it’s that bad.
Selznick is a gifted pianist who suffered a bad case of stage fright years ago but decides to put it behind him by making a comeback with a full orchestra backing him. Now, here’s where things get interesting… in front of a full house, Selznick begins playing and as he turns the pages of his sheet book he finds Clem’s message written in red, “Play one wrong note and you die.” Clem makes it clear to Selznick after he obtains an ear piece to listen to Clem’s instructions that he will shoot him with his high-powered rifle he has aimed at him and his wife Emma (Kerry Bishe), who’s sitting in a balcony seat. Clem and Selznick go back and forth in a terrific, believable exchange of good guy/bad guy dialogue. Woods and Cusack have a really excellent rapport, with Cusack making his presence felt tremendously throughout the film even without being physically seen while Woods does a fine job acting-wise as a scared, out of his wits neurotic who was already having trouble coping with his fear of playing in public.
To make things more interesting in this cat and mouse game Clem insists the piano piece Selznick was scheduled to play be scrapped—instead, Clem has him play “La Cinquette,” a piece described as “the impossible piece” since it contains musical fragments that are impossible to play even for the most gifted pianists. Apparently Selznick is, or was, the only living pianist who can play it perfectly. The irony is, “La Cinquette” is the piece Selznick freaked out on while performing it years ago, and hasn’t played it since. Clem knows this and forces Selznick to play it like his life depends on it which it really does . . . yikes!
Both Cusak and Woods are terrific in their respective roles and while the film is really about them, with Woods doing a nice job playing against a voice rather than a live person, the supporting cast really doesn’t compliment the talents of the two leads. Although I have to say getting Alex Winter (Bill of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, dude) to play Clem’s not too clever assistant was an amusing touch, perhaps a stronger supporting cast might have added more depth to the story. In other words, I really didn’t care for their characters nor did I care when they met their eventual fates. That’s not bogus, dude.
Grand Piano really doesn’t offer too much back story on the characters, not enough for me at least to really care about them. There’s the mention of Selznick’s mentor Patrick throughout the film who died after Selznick had his breakdown, but the constant mentioning of his name doesn’t add anything to the plot other than he owned the piano Selznick is playing that fateful night. His friends don’t really have much to offer other than get in Clem’s way (and you know what that means), but at least we still have Bill… er, Alex Winter to provide comic relief and a break from the tension. Excellent!
And here’s where the film really loses steam like a marathon runner starting out fast then running out of gas with only a few miles to go. In other words the ending comes up empty. It’s unfulfilling, unsatisfying, doesn’t tie up any loose ends, and the final scene with Woods makes you leave the theater going, “What the hell was that all about?” It just falls apart completely. It’s a very sloppy, Lifetime Channel type of ending. It’s as though the writers came up with this great concept for a film but had no idea where to take it and definitely had no idea how to end it. If they were striving for originality they succeeded, but not in a good way.
If you’re a fan of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and you’ve been wondering where the hell Bill has been, you’re in luck. If you like these sort of psychological thrillers here’s what I have to say about Grand Piano: it has lots of promise, better than decent performances from the two main characters, with Cusack being totes believable as a psychotic killer who scares the heck out Elijah Wood in a fine performance as Selznick. It’s 90 minutes in which the first 65 minutes will grab you but starting at the 66th minute, boy do things really lag and it will be that obvious. It will be clearly evident that the writers didn’t know how to make it work at the end and it’s a shame. Grand Piano could’ve been a lot more but ends up playing a wrong tune at the end.
Take a Drink: when we finally get to the meat of the story. Jeez, it felt like forever.
Take a Drink: when you don’t quite recognize Alex Winter at first but then you have an urge to say, “Excellent!”
Do a Shot: when the hottest looking girl in the film gets in Alex’s way. Bogus!
Take a Drink: for goofily creepy liner notes
Take a Drink: whenever Elijah Wood just gets up and wanders off
Take a Drink: for every new movement
Have a Triple and an extra Shot: for the lamest, most confusing ending of the year so far.