Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver
Rated R for Bloody Violence, and for Language including Sexual References
In a not entirely strange way, "The Voices" reminded me of the 1998 black comedy "Very Bad Things." It's a comedy-thriller with a body count and a tremendous amount of gore that is funnier if someone summarizes the plot for you instead of having to watch the movie.
Jerry (Reynolds) is a likable guy. Socially awkward, yes, but always pleasant and enthusiastic. He has his eye on Fiona (Arterton), the pretty temp upstairs and his court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Warren (Weaver) encourages him to pursue her. However, what no one at the plant knows is that he's just been released from the mental hospital, and can talk to his dog Bosco (Reynolds) and cat Mr. Whiskers (Reynolds). But when Jerry gives Fiona a ride home and a misunderstanding leads to her becoming a corpse, Jerry's life is about to get topsy-turvy.
As one can imagine, a story like this demands a completely warped approach. Think Danny DeVito meets David Lynch. A straight approach is not an option, but unfortunately that's what happens. Nothing is pushed far enough to earn a laughs, and as a result feels weird and dull.
The problem is obvious: director Marjane Satrapi (yes, the same woman who wrote the powerful graphic novel "Persepolis" and co-directed the film version) wants us to like and care about Jerry. We do, but that prevents us from laughing at him and the absurdity of the situations he finds himself in. A good black comedy needs characters we laugh at as they get their just desserts. While it's certainly possible to create a member of this genre, of which I have a fondness for, while allowing the characters to grow on the audience ("Burke and Hare" is an obvious example), it's a difficult task, and Satrapi isn't up to the challenge.
Whatever failings the film may have, they're not because of Ryan Reynolds. The Canadian redhead doesn't have a lot of range, but here, he is entirely believable as the eccentric Jerry. He finds the right balance between earnest and unhinged, and as a result, he's the most interesting character in the film. He also voiced Bosco and Mr. Whiskers, totally camouflaging his voice in the process; I didn't know it was him until I saw it on iMDb. Gemma Arterton plays a great stuck-up bitch (in the beginning) and a truly nutso severed head (after Jerry accidentally kills her). Anna Kendrick is uneven. At times too perky, but usually lovely. And Jacki Weaver is good as always (and sports a flawless American accent).
Even apart from Satrapi's diametrically-opposed approaches, the film doesn't even work on its own level. Would-be gags are so badly handled that I wasn't sure what was supposed to be funny. For example, there was no greater opportunity for humor than the talking pets, with Bosco being the simple-minded "good guy" and Mr. Whiskers encouraging Jerry to become a serial killer. But few of the lines they say have any humor (partly due to timing and delivery, but more often than not it's because they're just not funny). Ditto for the suspense. With one exception, we never feel the noose tightening around Jerry (again, partly due to scripting, and partly due to Satrapi's direction). Imagine what the late Wes Craven could have done with this material.
In the end, "The Voices" shoots for the sky, but crashes after 50 feet.