While She Was Out (2008)
Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Kim Basinger, Lukas Haas, Jamie Starr, Leonard Wu, Luis Chávez, Craig Sheffer
Written and directed by Susan Montford
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
When he put up DC's first news story about While She Was Out the other day, Butane mused about why we hadn't covered it before considering it was coming out in a few weeks. He jokingly said it was because we're lazy. I say regardless of why, it's a good thing we kept our distance. This one should have been released around Thanksgiving instead of Christmas because it is indeed a turkey! Aw, look; I gave away the ending of my review already, which is exactly what the creative geniuses behind While She Was Out do by way of its elaborate setup of Kim Basinger's character, the well-to-do but rather vacant Della, who happens to be married to your typical Lifetime-esque sleazy and abusive Kenneth (a sadly underutilized Sheffer).
It's Christmas Eve, and Della needs more wrapping paper. After a tediously uninspiring 15 minutes or so of Kenneth yelling, Della cowering, and their two children (boy and girl, twins of course) looking sufficiently pathetic so that the viewers know they both have years of therapy ahead, she takes off to do her last-minute shopping. At first I wasn't sure if she was actually going to the mall or running away from home, but eventually she does pull into a parking lot, where she gets extremely aggravated by one particular car that's taking up two spaces. She writes a note, leaves it on the windshield, and goes on her merry way. Certainly you know what happens when she's ready to leave. The recipient of her message is none too pleased to have been so insulted. And he isn't alone. No, Chuckie (Haas) -- yes, that's really his name -- is accompanied by his Asian friend Vingh (Wu), his Latino amigo Tomás (Chávez), and his Black homeboy Huey (Starr). A lone security guard tries to intervene, but hot-tempered Chuckie makes quick work of him. A silly car chase ensues, ending up with the bad guys following Della around an under construction housing development. The poor woman has no chance against these United Thugs of Benetton!
At least that's what you'd think, but Della is no ordinary desperate housewife. She's been taking a Mechanics class along with her weekly Pilates so she knows what it takes to fight off gangstas like these: a fully loaded Toolbox of Terror™! Della goes from timid victim to ninja in a flash -- wielding a lug wrench like a seasoned pro with no remorse. Even so, Basinger is mostly believable and at times sympathetic despite her lack of any firm and clear direction. Our gang-bangers on the other hand? All four actors are painful to watch, particularly Haas. I can appreciate his wanting to try the tough guy role on for size, but the emphasis he places on every single swear word that leaves his mouth is rivaled only by Lindsey Lohan in I Know Who Killed Me. I'd love to make a taped loop of her "fuck" and his "cunt" for those days when I really need a laugh.
And laugh I did -- many times and out loud -- thanks to While She Was Out's horrendous script. I'm tempted to track down the short story by Edward Bryant on which it's based. I cannot imagine it was anything like what I saw. Not only does our band of idiots spout such ridiculous notions as smelling Della's blood, sense when one of their group has been killed, and use totally out of character college-level vocabulary, but (I'm not kidding) at one point two of them actually debate whether or not Della is wearing Chanel No. 5 perfume. They go from Keystone Criminals who are easily thwarted by wrenches and tree branches to expert trackers. (Kate from "Lost" better watch her back!) There's even one point when Chuckie drops his bad guy persona and turns philosopher. At least he's talking instead of yelling "Della!" over and over a la Brando's "Stella!" But by far the most peculiar scene is when everything stops for a Goth music interlude of Vingh and Tomás paying "tribute" to their fallen compadre. I literally had no idea what was going on and thought two new people had been introduced into the storyline. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case; the audience and I were stuck with the same cast until the very end.
And what about that ending I alluded to earlier? During ten tense minutes right before the climax, I had a feeling that maybe writer/director Susan Montford was going to surprise us and take things over the edge into some really dark and twisted territory … but nope; it wasn't meant to be. Things predictably wrap up just as they started: slower than molasses and duller than dust. If it sounds like I'm being unduly harsh, it's only because someone obviously dropped a major ball with While She Was Out. You've got Guillermo del Toro as one of your producers; seasoned vets handling the cinematography, editing, and music; an Oscar-winning leading lady; and a co-star who has proven he knows how to handle himself in front of the camera. You don't need to resort to clichés. With a concept like this, all you need is authentic dialogue and a plausible situation. Montford helped produce Shoot 'Em Up; she should know better.
On the plus side the building site setting is fairly original, the kills are well executed, and Basinger still looks pretty fabulous. But that does not a good movie make. Is it a so-bad-it's-good movie though? One that ranks up there with those cherished guilty pleasures we ridicule around our friends but pop into the DVD player when in need of a chuckle or two? By damn, it just might be! Let me finish changing the oil and rotating the tires, and I'll get back to you.
1 1/2 out of 5
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