The American Empire falls with a dull thud

C+ Crime thriller
Written & directed by Denys Arcand

The movie gets off to a great start. Pierre-Paul (Alexandre Landry) explains to his soon-be-ex why, with a PhD in Philosophy, he’s driving a delivery truck. He argues that dumb people do better in capitalism than smart people. His points and his examples (yes, Trump is one of them) are valid, even if it sounds like an excuse.

Then Pierre-Paul does something ridiculously stupid. After witnessing an armed robbery gone wrong, he takes two duffle bags stuffed with large bills and hides them in his truck.

That means two things. First, a ruthless crime syndicate wants their money back. Second, the police suspect that he has the money, even though they can’t prove it.

That’s a pretty good setup for a thriller, although far from an original one. But Sony Classics is marketing The Fall of The American Empire as a satire. And yet there’s little humor, no irony, and for that matter, very few thrills. I don’t reject a film because it isn’t funny or thrilling, and I’m generally pleased when a picture doesn’t follow genre guidelines.

But the film has to have something holding it up. Aside from a few modestly-interesting scenes, Denys Arcand’s latest film feels emotionally flat.

The film seems to have something to say about high finance. There’s a lot of talk about taking money out of the country and into tax havens. It’s a serious problem, but Arcand fails to treat it in an interesting way.

By the way, the country they’re taking the money out of isn’t the U.S.A. This is a Canadian film, shot and set in Montreal (yes, most of the dialog is in French). The movie provides some beautiful urban scenery.

The Fall has another message: Be kind to the homeless. Pierre-Paul volunteers for them, and always drops coins into beggars’ cans. I think Arcand put that behavior in the screenplay to make us like Pierre-Paul.

For all its good intentions, The Fall of The American Empire is filled with disturbing stereotypes. The street hoods working for the evil crime organization are mostly black. Their top bosses are mostly white, and a police detective suggests that the crime lords are heartless because they’re made up of Irish and Jews.

And if the film wants to avoid movie clichés, why give the protagonist a new girlfriend, and especially why make that new girlfriend a high-priced prostitute? I thought that cliché died in the 90s.

The expensive girlfriend has a big and apparently very strong bodyguard. He rarely talks, and we’re told that he’s been trained in martial arts. You guessed it; he’s Asian – another stereotype. And yet, despite all the dangerous criminals around, he never gets to use the promised Kung Fu.

Speaking of unused talents, Pierre-Paul occasionally quotes a philosopher, which never helps the situation. The only time he appears intelligent is when he asks someone with more knowledge to help him.

Here’s something that Denys Arcand should have learned: You can’t teach economics by creating a thriller that doesn’t supply thrills.

The Fall of The American Empire opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center and the CinéArts at Palo Alto Square.

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