After his friend, a hot young artist, is killed, a resourceful American man living in London covers up the crime and tries to keep the friend's name alive in order to exploit his legacy and...
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After his friend, a hot young artist, is killed, a resourceful American man living in London covers up the crime and tries to keep the friend's name alive in order to exploit his legacy and reap millions in the process. Written by
Barely released in a few countries after sitting on the shelf for three years, Roger Spottiswoode's Ripley Under Ground is definitely the poor relation among screen adaptations of Patricia Highsmith's talented anti-hero. The screenplay is serviceable, with art student Tom Ripley (Barry Pepper) lying his way through college in London only to find a fortune falling into his lap when a talented young artist (Douglas Henshall) accidentally kills himself just on the verge of hitting it big. Persuading his more talented but less confident friend/rival (Ian Hart) to finish off a few of his paintings with the prospect of sex with the artist's ex (Claire Forlani) thrown in to stifle his qualms it goes well until Willem Dafoe's collector notices that the paintings aren't all they claim to be and Hart's conscience starts playing up, and it's not long before bodies need to be disposed of and personable detectives' suspicions need to be allayed...
Unfortunately, Rene Clement, Wim Wenders, Anthony Minghella and Liliana Cavani's takes on Highsmith's sophisticated mixture of art, deception and improvised murder in no danger of being surpassed here, and the reason seems fairly obvious. Where Plein Soleil, The American Friend, The Talented Mr Ripley and Ripley's Game were all driven by directors' visions, this seems more like an opportunistic cash-in where everyone got involved because the money was there rather than out of a burning need to delight in telling the tale on screen. As a result, this feels rather like The Less Talented Mr Ripley compared to the character's previous screen outings thanks to some miscasting and rather workmanlike writing and direction that ensures that, while it never bores, the film never catches fire or the imagination. Pepper plays Ripley like Matthew McConnaughey-lite, an unflatteringly photographed Forlani brings nothing to the party but a very bad performance, Alan Cumming camps it up on autopilot while Ian Hart, sporting a horrendous Beatles mop top wig that makes him look like Johnny Vegas after a crash diet, shows there's nothing worse than a good actor who knows he's giving a bad performance. Tom Wilkinson is confidently professional enough as the plod on the case but only Dafoe brings a bit of spark to the proceedings As a result, rather than an elegant black comedy the laughs are often more uncomfortably unintentional - one clumsily grafted on bit of CGI in a car crash in particular is bad enough to make you spit your coffee across the room in disbelief if you have the misfortune to be drinking while watching it. It's watchable, but it feels like the sort of film you'd see on an airplane when you can't sleep on a laugh-haul return flight.
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