Lindsay Lohan’s career as a leading lady seems stuck in that curious cinematic moment when theaters were flooded with movies about dudes switching places, a wave that brought us the timeless Big and the instantly dated Vice Versa, Like Father Like Son, and 18 Again. The rest of the world moved on, but Lohan became mired in a weird time warp where identity-switching movies never went out of fashion. At first, Lohan was content simply remaking movies about identity swaps, appearing in The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday. But that wasn’t enough for our Lindsay. No, she needed brand new identity-swapping movies, so she swapped luck with Chris Pine in Just My Luck and traded places with her long-lost identical twin (tardy spoiler alert!) in 2007’s little-loved I Know Who Killed Me.
I Know Who Killed Me riffs on Lohan’s schizophrenic persona by casting her as both a goody-goody Yale-bound scholar who resists the grubby advances of her boyfriend Johnny Football Hero, and as a stripper/occasional prostitute whose mother died of a crack overdose, leaving her to fend for herself. The split epitomizes Lohan’s devolution from Disney Princess to out-of-control party girl.
It also reflects her waning fortunes. In just a few short years of bad behavior and worse choices, Lohan went from the A-list to the D-list. Everything about I Know Who Killed Me reeks of the grindhouse: the title, the sordid strip-club milieu, graphic scenes of beautiful young women being pursued and tortured, the ominous score, and a hilariously convoluted final twist. It’d be tempting to argue that anything would qualify as a step up after I Know Who Killed Me, but Labor Pains disproves that theory.
When I rented I Know Who Killed Me at a small independent video store that is so not Blockbuster, the goateed clerk behind the counter perked up and guilelessly enthused, “This is actually really good. It’s essentially an American version of giallo, like something Dario Argento would have done.” I smiled, nodded, and thought, “Sure it is. I would love to hear your cinephile defense of Saw IV as a contemporary version of a Val Lewton thriller.”
“She knew a trick. She knew how to turn her life into a movie and make things happen, not to her, but to a girl who looked just like her,” Lohan’s opening dialogue announces in a voice that combines girlish enthusiasm with cigarette-stained worldliness. In a characteristically clumsy bit of foreshadowing, she’s reading a story aloud to her high-school class, a story that bears a more-than-passing resemblance to the narrative that’s about to unfold. We know that this incarnation of Lohan is bookish and serious by her glasses and practical ponytail. This is the same sly visual shorthand that allowed Uwe Boll to convincingly cast Tara Reid as a brainiac in Alone In The Dark.
Lohan 1.0 rebuffs the advances of her hot-blooded boyfriend, goes to a football game, hangs out with her pals, and threatens to quit piano lessons so she can concentrate on school. That last part might seem irrelevant unless we’re versed in Roger Ebert’s “Law Of Economy Of Characters,” which states:
Movie budgets make it impossible for any film to contain unnecessary characters. Therefore, all characters in a movie are necessary to the story, even those who do not seem to be. Sophisticated viewers can use this Law to deduce the identity of a person being kept secret by the movie’s plot: This “mystery” person is always the only character in the movie who seems otherwise extraneous. Cf. the friendly neighbor in The Woman In White.
So while it doesn’t seem terribly important at the time, Lohan’s desire to quit taking piano lessons ends up proving central to the plot. I Know Who Killed Me goes overboard with color-coded symbolism. As commenters noted in the last MYOF entry, Killed Me could very well be the bluest movie in existence. Scene after scene is shot through a blue filter and filled with blue costumes, blue backdrops, and ubiquitous blue roses. The clip below provides a concentrated dose of the film’s obsession with blue (and its bleary stylistic excess):
After the football game, a crazed madman abducts Lohan and graphically tortures her while wearing blue gloves and extracting torture devices from a blue cooler. We then flash forward to a character I will call Lohan 2.0 waking up in a hospital room alive but lacking a few limbs, as she discovers in a scene that pushes Lohan’s skills as a dramatic actor well beyond their breaking point, and helps her triumph over Home Of The Brave’s Jessica Biel in the feverish competition for “worst performance by an overmatched sexpot as a depressed amputee.” As Ryan O’Neal might say, “Oh God! Oh man! Oh God! Oh man!” Lohan can at least take comfort in the knowledge that it only takes one good hand to push people away.
When her “parents” visit her, Lohan 2.0 is full of questions. Who are they? Who do they think she is? And why is everything so goddamned blue? Lohan 2.0 denies being the Yale-bound goody-goody everyone thinks she is, and she hips a bewildered psychiatrist to the real facts of her existence as the bitter, jaded daughter of a dead basehead:
When you’re raised by a crack addict who thinks that the less people know about you, the better, it kind of sticks… I could always count on seeing the palm of [my mother’s] hand on payday. When she didn’t come around, I figured she was dead. Wasn’t too hard to see that one coming. She was stupid, pathetic, and a junkie.
But Lohan is a sharp cookie. When the psychiatrist requests her social-security number, she gets suspicious. “You’re fuzz, aren’t you?” If I might indulge in a pointless personal aside, my first knowledge of hippie culture came from watching a documentary about the ’60s that featured a furry freak slurring something to the effect of “Aw man, it’s chill. I was just over there rapping with the fuzz.” So now I cannot hear that word without immediately thinking of that hippie and his rap session.
Lohan 2.0 turns out to be what is politely known as an “exotic dancer” in a tacky little club where she grinds robotically and indifferently while bathed in red light. Whoa, red light? That so has to mean something. In keeping with time-honored Hollywood tradition, Lohan’s much-ballyhooed striptease is unconvincing, dispirited, devoid of nudity, and perversely unsexy. When name actresses play strippers, topless bars have a curious way of turning into keeping-bra-and-panties-on establishments. I expected so much more from Lohan’s anonymous body double. [NSFW]
Here, Lohan 2.0 acquires a fancy new robot hand:
When Johnny Football Hero comes a-courting, he discovers an advantage to Lohan 2.0’s new attitude: Where the old Lohan played hard-to-get, her new incarnation has him in bed in less than an hour. Much of Kill Me is dour and portentous, but there’s a lively dark humor to the scene where she has wildly acrobatic sex with Johnny Football Hero, and mother Julia Ormond (whose presence serves as a haunting reminder that yesterday’s star of the future often ends up today’s has-been) tries to drown out the ecstatic grunting and moaning by scrubbing her kitchen counter in a Joan Crawford-like frenzy.
What the fuck is going on? Theories abound. Some posit that Lohan 2.0 is merely suffering from amnesia, or suddenly afflicted with multiple-personality disorder. But could it be something more sinister? Thankfully, professional conspiracy theorist Art Bell is on hand to explain it all:
Occam’s Razor posits that when there are multiple explanations for a phenomenon, the simplest one is correct. Accordingly, Killed Me coughs up the simplest possible explanation for Lohan 1.0 and Lohan 2.0: Ormond’s baby died during delivery, so her distraught husband purchased half of a pair of identical twins from a crackhead down the hall, then kept it a secret from Lohan and Ormond alike. Well duh!
But that still leaves a few questions unresolved. Who is the mystery killer, and where is Lohan 2.0’s other half? The answer, not surprisingly, is the piano teacher. In another time-honored crappy-film tradition, once he’s uncovered as a lunatic who tortures and dissects students who want to quit taking piano lessons, the teacher gets a crazed gleam in his eyes and slips into a breathy, slow, borderline-possessed “I am clearly insane” vocal pattern.
Killed Me’s crimes are legion. The plot cycles through an entire season’s worth of soap-opera twists, the score is as oppressive as the production design, and the whole enterprise is so unrelentingly sleazy and wrong that I felt like I needed to take a long, scalding-hot shower after leaving the theater. But no one can accuse director Chris Sivertson of not trying. On the contrary, he tries way too hard, filling every frame with hokey symbolism, slow-motion moments, and countless other histrionic touches. Sivertson might very well have set out to direct a gothic, Grand Guignol giallo-style atmospheric thriller. Instead, it comes like V.C. Andrews with a terrible hangover.
On a similar note, no one could accuse Jared Leto of not trying hard enough in 2007’s Chapter 27. The film was supposed to mark Leto’s emergence as a heavyweight actor in the truest sense, since he gained upward of 60 pounds by subsisting on a diet of melted ice cream, soy sauce, and olive oil to play John Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman. That dedication would be admirable if Leto had made a contemporary Raging Bull, but Leto gaining that much weight to deliver an astonishingly awful performance in a terrible film that died at the box office and got scathing reviews is like me sawing off three of my limbs with a rusty chainsaw so I could play Max Cleland in a YouTube video: not quite worth the effort.
The killer in I Know Who Killed Me only slips into the slow, breathy, “I am so nuts and violent” voice when he’s unmasked as the killer. But Leto uses that voice throughout the film. He’s so unrelentingly creepy and off-putting, it’s a marvel that anyone is able to tolerate his company for more than a minute or so, yet in this clip, Lohan asks him out. Apparently morbidly obese, ragingly effeminate lunatics with no social skills are her type.
Leto’s second-hand ideas about actors being phonies and fakes feels just a little ironic, considering how egregiously Leto overacts. He twitches and mumbles to himself, reciting purple prose via the narration, and delivering all his lines in a grotesque caricature of a Southern belle. Apparently Mark David Chapman was half Holden Caulfield, half Blanche DuBois. How awful is Leto here? In this clip, he proves it’s possible to overact even while standing still and doing nothing. Leto stops just short of drooling constantly and wearing a straitjacket to convey the depths of his character’s insanity.
Chapter 27 creeps along at a funereal pace that makes it seem twice as long as its 81-minute running time, as Leto crawls towards his date with destiny. It’s like spending almost an hour and a half locked in an elevator with the single most excruciatingly awkward person you’ve ever met. When all else fails, the director cuts to images of fields of rye waving peacefully in the breeze, accompanied by heavy-handed narration.
Chapter 27 is essentially a one-man show. The other characters are on hand solely to react to Leto’s mounting craziness. The film inhabits his warped world; everyone else is a mere bystander, including Lohan, who begins to get seriously creeped out by Leto’s deluded loner.
After that, it’s just a waiting game. I wound up actively rooting for Leto to kill a dude who vaguely resembles John Lennon just so the film could be put out of its misery. Chapter 27 opens overwrought and keeps ratcheting up the lunacy until it’s whipped itself into total hysteria.
Lohan makes it through this wreckage unscathed, mainly because Leto’s performance is such a clattering, tone-deaf, misbegotten train-wreck that it swallows up the film. When someone mentions that Rosemary’s Baby was filmed at the Dakota, Lennon’s final residence, Lohan says she didn’t like the film, explaining, “It’s very slow-moving. Nothing happens until the end.” That comment applies doubly to Chapter 27, in spite of its penchant for shameless melodrama. Chapter 27 was supposed to score Leto an Academy Award nomination, but something went terribly awry en route to Oscar glory. At least Lohan can take comfort in the knowledge that, for once, she isn’t to blame.
I Know Who Killed Me: Failure
Chapter 27: Failure