Washington not enough to save ‘The Little Things’

Denzel Washington and Rami Malek in The Little Things / HBO Max

Denzel Washington makes every movie he’s in better, and his performance in “The Little Things” almost saves the film from being just another procedural cop movie among all the others.

Unfortunately even Washington can’t keep this film which opens so promisingly from fading into a stylishly done but ultimately less effective remake of “Seven.”

Washington plays Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon, a disgraced but revered former Los Angeles Police Department detective who becomes involved in a serial-killer investigation in his old stomping grounds that is very much like a case that ultimately ruined his career years before.

Heading the investigation is LAPD detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), whose intelligence and intensity reminds Deke of himself. When Baxter shows Deke respect by asking his opinion on several related cases that have the department stymied, the two team together to ferret out a likely suspect in Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), who ends up taunting the two cops as they investigate a recent homicide.

Director/writer John Lee Hancock sets a tantalizing stage for a mystery/thriller, but ultimately his script lacks much of payoff as Malek’s Baxter goes down a similar road that Deke did before burning out.

We learn that Deke basically ruined his life several years earlier by relentlessly following a case involving the brutally staged murder of two young women. He lost his marriage, had a heart attack, and had to leave his job and city because of mistakes he made along the way.

Baxter is falling into the same pattern as Deke helps him put the finger on Leto’s Sparma, who seems to be enjoying the cat-and-mouse game he is playing with the detectives.

Writing much more about the plot would ruin the film’s conclusion, which left me feeling fairly empty after enjoying much of the movie.

Washington is excellent in his role. I only wish he had a better conclusion to work with. You feel for his character as a talented man who has been shoved into a job where his talents and abilities aren’t put to the best use.

Deke sees a lot of himself in Baxter, but rather than warning him of potentially flaming out, he uses him as a means to an end. Malek is solid in the part, but his character tics and mannerisms are a bit too much. They take you out of his character rather than drawing you in.

But at least he doesn’t overact like Leto, whose wide-eyed Sparma is just a few notes off from his performance as the Joker from 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” It doesn’t take a detective to figure out who the suspected serial killer from Leto’s look, mannerisms, and dress.

However, Leto and Malek’s affectations wouldn’t have been as noticeably irritating if Hancock had devised a better conclusion. His movie is all atmosphere with too little substance to be ultimately satisfying.

The movie is playing in theaters and on HBO Max.

(R) 2 hr. 8 min.
Grade: C-

This Week in Theaters

  • Palmer(R) 1 hr. 50 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: Malco Razorback, Malco Towne
  • The Little Things(R) 2 hr. 8 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Towne, Skylight

Classic Corner

Normally Turner Classic Movies lives up to its name, providing movie fans with a solid slate of films that mostly fall into what a reasonably minded movie buff would call classics.

However, on Monday night, TCM is rolling out a set of films that could only be deemed classic because of their age because the content of the films are highly suspect..

Plan 9 from Outer Space

The night of ill entertainment begins with the movie many critics have deemed the worst film ever made “Plan 9 from Outer Space.”

The movie is dreadful, nearly unwatchable, and is really only notable because it features the last performance by horror icon Bela Lugosi, who starred as Dracula in Universal Pictures classic 1931 version.

Lugosi only appears in the 1959 movie for a few minutes in stock footage that director Ed Wood had shot prior to Lugosi’s death in 1956 that was intended to be used in another movie. Wood’s dentist, who was a financial backer for “Plan 9,” took over the role and held a cape over his face in an attempt to fool the audience.

The plot is that aliens enact “Plan 9,” which raises the dead in the San Fernando Valley in an attempt to of forestall humanity from creating a doomsday weapon that would threaten the entire universe. Along with Lugosi and his stand-in, other horror veterans like Tor Johnson appear along with 1950s TV horror movie host Vampira. The movie is narrated by flamboyant stage magician Criswell.

The film was largely forgotten for decades until authors Harry and Michael Medved crowned it as the “worst movie ever made” in their “The Golden Turkey Awards.”

I’m not sure if “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is actually the worst movie ever made because I’ve never been able to make it all the to the end.

Ironically director Tim Burton made a really solid biographical comedy “Ed Wood” in 1994 starring Johnny Depp as the cross-dressing director. It’s actually a movie worth seeing.

However, TCM doesn’t stop schlock there.

The Swarm — 8:30 p.m.

At 8:30 p.m., the 1978 stinker “The Swarm” invades the channel with a tale of a humongous cloud of killer bees attacking the United States. The best way to describe film is that it is “Jaws” with a swarm of killer bees instead of a shark. It’s a mess of a movie, and kind of sad to watch such notable talents as Henry Fonda, Fred MacMurray, Olivia de Havilland, Richard Widmark, and Ben Johnson slum it up with Michael Cain, Richard Chamberlain, Katherine Ross, Patty Duke, and Lee Grant.

The Conqueror — 10:45 p.m.

John Wayne might be my favorite old-time movie star, although I freely admit his range was fairly limited.

The greatest stretch of Wayne’s career might have been in the 1956 epic “The Conqueror” in which he plays Mongol warlord Genghis Khan in this turkey produced by Howard Hughes.

Wayne was at the height of his career and actively sought out the part, but The Duke learned his lesson after this clunker and primarily stuck to his cowboy and war movie roots for the rest of his career.