By Richard Roeper
Signal Contributing Writer
‘I Care a Lot’
Netflix presents a film written and directed by J Blakeson. Rated R (for language throughout and some violence). Running time: 118 minutes.
Who’s up for a bloody good time?
The Netflix original movie “I Care a Lot” is a vicious and cheerfully twisted psychological thriller dripping in deception and dread, bathed in pop-art colors and infused with a wickedly dark sense of humor. If you turn off your Plausibility Meter from the moment you see the big red Netflix “N” and hear that “Ta-dummmmmm” sound and keep it off throughout this deliciously nasty and increasingly byzantine tale of cons and crooks and gangsters caught up in a tangled web of criminal deceit, you’re in for a crazy good time.
The British actress Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl,” “A Private War”) once again slips seamlessly into an American accent and delivers a performance alternately icy cool and scalding hot as Marla Grayson, a symphony of blond bob, tastefully coordinated outfits, spiked heels, designer sunglasses and an ever-present cloud of vape pipe smoke who works as a high-end conservator. In one court appearance after another, Marla advocates for senior citizens who no longer can care for themselves while Marla becomes their guardian and takes control of every facet of their lives — including the liquidation of their assets.
She cares. A lot. That’s what Marla keeps telling the befuddled seniors as they’re hauled away to the Berkshire Oaks Senior Living Facility, as well as the relatives who are prevented from seeing Mom or Grandma or Uncle Pete because it’s too upsetting, not to mention the compassionate but not too perceptive judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who rules in Marla’s favor every time she appears in front of him, supposedly advocating for another poor soul who can no longer take care of herself.
As we quickly learn, Marla couldn’t possibly care less about these senior citizens. She’s a coldblooded predator, a con artist, a slickly manipulative sociopath who literally covers her office walls with profile pics of current and potential victims.
Here’s how the cons play out. Marla works in precision-like tandem with conspirators including her professional and romantic partner Fran (Eiza Gonzalez); the ethically bankrupt Dr. Karen Amos (Alicia Witt), who signs the paperwork committing senior citizens to care facilities; and the smarmy Sam Rice (Damian Young), who is the director of Berkshire Oaks Senior Living Facility and alerts Marla every time a room becomes available — and also makes sure the residents are heavily medicated, under constant watch and without their cellphones so they can’t make a break for it or try to contact a relative. The appallingly corrupt system works to perfection, as Marla sells off everything her victims own while doling out cuts to her partners in crime.
Enter one Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest, perfection as always), who is what Marla and her ilk call a “cherry” — a wealthy retiree who never married, never had children, has no family of any kind and has exhibited just enough tendencies for Dr. Amos to massage the paperwork and declare them unfit to look after themselves. At the drop of the judge’s gavel, Marla shows up at Jennifer’s doorstep with state troopers looming in the background, informs Jennifer she’ll be taken to her new home at the senior living facility, and then methodically goes about the business of putting Jennifer’s house on the market, auctioning off her possessions and even raiding her safe deposit box at the bank, all under the auspices of a legal and binding agreement.
Pike and Gonzalez make for a great love-to-hate-them tandem; what they’re doing should earn them a special place in hell, yet they clearly relish gaming the system and even seem to be turned on by their criminal triumphs. They’re riding high and raking in the bucks, and all seems well in their twisted world — and that’s when a high-priced attorney (Chris Messina) who looks like he walked out of a mob movie shows up at Marla’s office and tells her Jennifer has some very powerful friends, and if Marla doesn’t arrange for Jennifer’s freedom, it’s going to get very uncomfortable for her, very quickly.
Peter Dinklage sinks his chops into the role of Roman Lunyov, a temperamental crime boss with a huge personal and professional stake in Jennifer’s release. Even when Roman is holding nothing but an iced latte in his hand, it feels like he’s wielding a lethal weapon. Wiest is fantastically funny as Jennifer, who has been smothered in a cloud of drugs at the facility but is still greatly amused when Marla asks her about the threats she’s been receiving. “Oh … you’re in trouble now,” says Jennifer with a killer smile, and that’s the understatement of the year.
Writer-director J Blakeson infuses “I Care a Lot” with an electric, off-the-rails energy, as the story grows ever more violent.
Considering Kenan Thompson has the longest all-time tenure as a “Saturday Night Live” cast member, having joined the likes of Darrell Hammond, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey and Fred Armisen in 2003 and continuing through the current season, it’s a wonder it took NBC this long to hand Thompson the keys to his own prime-time vehicle, a single-camera comedy titled simply “Kenan.”
I’ve seen the pilot for “Kenan” and while it’s hardly groundbreaking, must-see TV, it’s a warm and funny slice-of-comfort viewing, featuring a winning performance by Thompson, strong work from the supporting cast and some admirably thought-provoking, issues-based situations baked into the comedy. Thompson maintains his sunny but occasionally edgy persona as he slips comfortably into the role of a recently widowed father struggling to balance fatherhood and his job as the host of an upbeat, Atlanta-based, local morning TV show called “Wake Up With Kenan!”
BTW, Don Johnson plays his meddling, live-in father-in-law, and if that sounds like stunt casting, of course it is, but Johnson proves to be adept at the rhythms of dialogue-driven, punchline-oriented comedic timing. There’s something kind of wacky and wonderful about seeing Thompson, fellow “SNL” player Chris Redd as Kenan’s brother Gary and the slickster crime-stopper from “Miami Vice” and “Nash Bridges” exchanging banter around the kitchen table while Kenan’s adorable daughters crack up at these loving, clueless parental units.
The pilot toggles back and forth between scenes of Kenan at home with his two whip-smart daughters, Aubrey and Birdie (real-life sisters and YouTube stars Dani and Dannah Lane, respectively), his party-bachelor brother/manager and his wisecracking father-in-law, and workplace hijinks on the set of “Wake Up With Kenan!” with Kimrie Lewis as Kenan’s high-strung but loyal executive producer Mika.
One subplot involves Kenan digging himself deeper and deeper into politically incorrect territory with an ad-libbed monologue; another has Kenan struggling to talk about his wife on his show or at home. We also learn Kenan was formerly an actor and starred in a sitcom in which his future wife, Cori (Niccole Thurman), played his mother. Wait, what? Kenan pops in an old VHS of outtakes from the show, and the kids groan at the obvious sexual undercurrent when “mom” tucks him into bed. “I’m amazed they kept us as long as they did,” says Kenan.
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