Review: Shades (1999)

Shades (1999)

Directed by: Erik van Looy | 95 minutes | drama, comedy | Actors: Mickey Rourke, Gene Bervoets, Andrew Howard, Mireille Leveque, Jan Decleir, Mike Verdrengh, Hilde van Mieghem, Tom van Bauwel, Rudolph Segers, Koen de Bouw, Luk D’Heu, Filip Peeters, Sally-Jane van Hoorenbeeck, Gert Lahousse, Tine Reymer, Marilou Mermans, Vic de Wachter, Gert Portael, Axel Daeseleire, Wim Stevens, Bert Struys, Ellen Dierckx, Eddy Vereycken, Victor Zaidi, David Steegen, Chantal Leyers, Dimitri Leue, Peter Borghs, Inge De Waele, Tania brave

Whoever said ten years ago that Mickey Rourke would one day be back in the Hollywood spotlight would have been absolutely insane. After all, the actor, who made a comet career in the eighties with films such as ‘Rumble Fish’ (1983) and ‘Nine Weeks’ (1986), had single-handedly killed his own career with his misbehavior and addictions. When he revived his boxing career after taking a good chunk of money for ‘Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man’ (1991), Rourke’s acting career seemed to be over for good. For years, he was the target of ridicule for helping his once-beautiful face and body to damnation in the ring. Magazine articles were not about his latest film, but about his most recent cosmetic procedure. The actor himself was the last to believe in a comeback. Miraculously, he came up with a role that is just right for Rourke. As Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, he rigorously silenced his critics with ‘The Wrestler’ (2008).

Before that glorious comeback, however, Rourke toiled for years in small-scale (B) films. For someone who was once such a big Hollywood star as he is, a painful humiliation. One of the better films that Rourke made in the intervening years is ‘Shades’ (1999) by the Belgian director Erik van Looy. Rourke plays Paul S. Sullivan, an American director who has had his best years and has been sentenced to film obscure projects in Europe. He is in Antwerp for the film ‘Shades’, about the life of the notorious Belgian serial killer Freddy Lebecq (Jan Decleir). The recordings are not easy, which is partly due to the difficult relationship that Paul has with his rebellious protagonist Dylan Cole (Andrew Howard), who has his own ideas about the interpretation of his role. The slippery producer of the film, Max Vogel (Gene Bervoets) is also constantly getting in his way. When Dylan can no longer control his frustrations and takes an overdose, the media also gets involved in the production. A man appears who wants to prevent the film from being made on behalf of the victims of Lebecq. Meanwhile, the killer himself waits in his cell for possible early release…

The career of director Erik van Looy would gain momentum a few years after ‘Shades’ thanks to the highly successful ‘De Case Alzheimer’ (2003). Its successor ‘Loft’ (2008) would break all visitor records in Belgium. With ‘Shades’, however, Van Looy was not that far yet: this film comes across as somewhat obscure and messy. The story – written by Van Looy and Guy Lee Thys – is predictable, although the behind-the-scenes look at a movie set and the nod to the real world (not just in Rourke’s character, who even gets to pull out his trusty Chihuahua, but also, for example, in the way the media shamelessly dives into the scandals) are very entertaining. However, ‘Shades’ never gets exciting. Fortunately, the film has the advantage that the pace remains nice and high because of all those insider jokes. Van Looy has made a slick production with flashing images and a threatening score. But all that fuss does not hide that the story has very little to say and that has mainly to do with the barely developed characters. None of them really manage to win the viewer’s sympathy.

Rourke and Decleir know how to make the best of their roles. The American does not even have to do much more than simply be himself. Seemingly on autopilot, he works towards the end. Unfortunately, Decleir has very little screen time. In the few minutes he gets, however, he manages to intrigue as serial killer Freddy Lebecq, a man of few words who can hardly be fathomed. It is precisely the actors who are often in the picture that get on the nerves at times. Gene Bervoets comes up with a remarkable mix between English and Flemish that is impossible to raise. His character Max Vogel is an arrogant slime and Bervoets meets those requirements. But it doesn’t make him more popular with the viewer. Welshman Andrew Howard is equally unsympathetic. It’s a surly, perverse movie star who can barely take the toll of fame. Just like Bervoets, Howard plays his part properly. However, as a viewer you can’t do anything with it, because there is no sympathy. Inconspicuous or insignificant supporting roles include Mireille Leveque and Koen de Bouw.

Despite its many flaws, ‘Shades’ has a high entertainment value. The main attraction is Mickey Rourke, whose presence alone is intrigued enough to make you want to see the film. The view we can cast on the chaotic scenes around a film set are also interesting enough to keep us busy for an hour and a half. That the script rattles on all sides, no character can bear our sympathy and the film barely has any depth, is of later concern. ‘Shades’ is typically one of those films that you’ve forgotten about five minutes after the end credits. Fortunately, both Rourke and Van Looy would treat us to better work at a later stage in their careers!

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