Screenwriter-turned-director Henry Bean—who penned such films as The Believer (which he also directed), Deep Cover, Internal Affairs, and, um, Basic Instinct 2—specializes in dark dramas about intense, solitary loners at war with themselves. Tim Robbins joins Bean's gallery of protagonists who really need to chill the fuck out, but this time he's at war with the world in general and car alarms in particular. Yes, Bean has finally given cappuccino-sipping NPR listeners their very own Death Wish with Noise. Only instead of taking out street punks with a handgun, Robbins commits violence against the honking, screaming inanimate objects that keep decent people from enjoying a nice afternoon nap or reading the latest Don DeLillo novel. Robbins even ups the ante on his anti-noise campaign a friendly way by trying to collect enough signatures to get an anti-car-alarm initiative on the ballot during the next election. Che Guevera would be proud.
In a role that should, but inexplicably doesn't, comment cheekily on his off-screen image as the ultimate insufferable liberal do-gooder scold, Robbins stars as a lawyer who resorts to desperate measures after being irritated by one berserk car alarm too many. Dubbing himself "The Rectifier"—even his secret identity has a stuffy grad school ring about it—Robbins takes baseball bats and hammers to car alarms, burglar alarms, and other sources of loud, obnoxious noises. Robbins' obsession destroys his marriage to Michelle Monaghan but unleashes his dormant libido and sense of direction; it isn't long until he's indulging in boozy threesomes with swinging bohemians and leading an entire brigade of anti-noise extremists.
Like many of Bean's scripts, Noise boasts a provocative premise ripe with potential for satire and social commentary. Who hasn't fantasized about taking a baseball bat to an especially noxious, unending car alarm? So why does Noise feel so muddled and underwhelming? Why does Robbins' campaign feel empty and self-indulgent instead of cathartic? It's probably because Bean can't figure out whether he's making a wacky social satire or a brooding character study. Instead of coming off as a righteous avenger or charismatic anti-hero, Robbins seems an abrasive, thin-skinned jerk. Bean always writes interesting scripts that toy with big ideas, but the films that result aren't always good. (Or even bearable.) Here he sets out to make an aural Fight Club, but instead he's made a movie about a guy who really needs to buy earplugs.