Keira Knightley, Domino
Credit: Domino: Daniella Scaramuzza

Poor little rich babe, scion of English movie-star royalty, AK-47-toting punkette bounty hunter: If Domino Harvey’s life didn’t already sound like a chicly garish girl-with-model-cheekbones-goes-slumming thriller, then a girl-with-model-cheekbones-goes-slumming thriller would have to be made to exploit it. And now one has. Domino, directed by Tony Scott, is a movie that wears its ultraviolence and fashionista grunge, its Oliver Stone-makes-a-Harley-Davidson-commercial visuals, and its fake-nervy aggression like a very ugly but expensive tattoo. The movie is trash shot to look like art imitating trash. It’s the tale of a real person in only the most abstract, opportunistic way, since what Scott has done is to pin the scandal label of ”true story” onto his most fractiously vapid action film since Beverly Hills Cop II.

Designed as a blitzkrieg of fast, shuddery images saturated with glary fluorescent color (accent on the nausea green), like something out of the latest music vid that’s too mod for the dorm, Domino is a movie that’s fatally hip and lethally numb. It features a synthetic update of Tarantino-flavored violence (a man’s arm, branded with a safe combination, gets ripped from his torso); a plot so dense with ersatz Elmore Leonard convolutions that it manages to stay three steps ahead of the audience and four steps behind common sense; and a saintly hellion of a heroine — a kamikaze to the glamour born, played by Keira Knightley with no emotion but an unvaried runway-model pout of bad attitude.

A framing device has tough agent Lucy Liu interrogating the captured Domino, who recalls the story, with far too much tedious narration, of how she became a Los Angeles bounty hunter and got wrapped up in a $10 million payoff. For reasons that are never remotely explained, Domino, the daughter of stage and screen legend Laurence Harvey (we see a brief clip of him in the 1962 The Manchurian Candidate), rebels against her role as prep-school princess by addicting herself to danger. She connects with a band of hired reprobates and finds an alternate father figure in Ed, played by Mickey Rourke, who even in this late-wreckage career phase lends an undertone of sweet softness to his beefy street-zombie posturing. Domino proves her mettle by standing up, with no experience, to a roomful of criminals in a scene so far-fetched, it establishes the film’s utter nose-thumbing view of plausibility. Yet since Domino is aimed at a generation hungry for a quick fix of empowerment fantasy, the scene’s hyperbole is the whole point. This, the movie says, is the you of your dreams: the Suicide Girl as glam sociopath.

Now that ”cool” has become an official corporate concept, used to sell everything from jeans to hair gel, it’s worth asking: Is a movie that works as hard to be badass as Domino does a contradiction in terms? As a packaged sensory onslaught of girl-gunslinger nihilism, Scott’s film would seem to have everything, yet taken simply as entertainment, it is dreadful: less cool than ice-cold, its violence too dissociated to inspire a decadent tremor of excitement. They should have called it Natural Born Ciphers.

  • Movie
  • 113 minutes