Only Sam Raimi could churn out one of the bleakest, most goose-pimply films of the season and have to worry about his fans’ whacking him on the knuckles for going mainstream. Not that his new based-on-a-best-seller, big-studio thriller A Simple Plan is exactly The Firm II — but it is a bit of a decaf departure for the man whose daredevil speed-freak camera work in cult flicks like the Evil Dead series and Darkman spawned a loyal cadre of gamey-smelling film-school acolytes.
”I’d be surprised if people thought this was a mainstream movie,” says Raimi. ”God, it’s about brothers who are thieves and murderers. That won’t exactly sell more tickets.” Yet Raimi does admit he intentionally reined in his signature visual pyrotechnics, despite the potential wrath of his grind-house geek disciples. But at least the 39-year-old Detroit native can take solace in A Simple Plan being probably the best film he’s ever made. And it’s hardly short on haunting imagery — the snow-blinding Midwestern winterscapes are enough to make you wish you’d brought a Gore-Tex parka to the theater.
Based on Scott Smith’s bone-chilling blockbuster 1993 novel, Plan tells the eerie tale of the Mitchell brothers (Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton), who discover a downed airplane and a duffel bag holding $4 million and change. Or, as they call it, ”the American Dream in a goddamned gym bag!”
But getting that dilemma-loaded American Dream to theaters was more like an Odyssean nightmare. Raimi first flirted with the film in 1994 but felt he wouldn’t have enough prep time, so declined. Then director after director fell by the wayside — first Ben Stiller (The Cable Guy), then John Dahl (Rounders) — before its studio, Savoy, went belly-up.
Rights were picked up by Paramount-based producer Scott Rudin, who tapped John Boorman (Beyond Rangoon) to direct. When Boorman bowed out, the not-so-simple Plan returned to Raimi, who’s more than happy to benefit from the headaches. ”I’ve never been a horror-movie guy in my heart,” says Raimi. ”It was just fertile ground for me to experiment as a filmmaker.” Hmm, if that isn’t enough to whip those camera-crazy gore fanatics into a horrified tizzy, consider this: Raimi’s next film, the baseball drama For the Love of the Game, stars a certain mainstream actor named…Kevin Costner. The horror!