Machine (2006)
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One of he most popular of all film genres has to be the crime drama. Mild mannered viewers can let their inner criminal out while avoiding the messy details of committing the crime, jail time etc. Usually, this is the realm of the larger studios but recently some independent film makers have been taking a try at it. Michael Lazar has entered his project, ‘Machine’ and while it is flawed it does represent a man’s cinematic vision and for a new name in film he at least tried to take a long standing genre and apply a different slant on it.

With the opening credits there is a quotation: "In the shadow of every crime is a woman" - Shogun Proverb. We then get to see a pretty young woman talking about how the meek will inherit the earth as a man in the sparse crowd, Vic (Michael Lazar), stands up, walks over to the woman and covers her eyes as he shoots another man in the crowd. It turns out that Vic is a former member of a military Special Forces unit who turned mercenary for awhile and no has sunk to being a criminal gun for hire. Big time crime boss Santo (Nick Vallelonga) has a few problems currently concerning him. He has been indicted for murder and he is also having some troubles with a deal with Asian crime lord Cho (Garret Sato). Always close to Santo his is girlfriend, actually more a moll, Layla (Michelle Lombardo). She is more than the typical eye candy; she is manipulative and cunning, a deadly combination and the men around Santo knows it. Vic and his partner Frank (Paul Sloan) find themselves in the employ of Santo much to the chagrin of Vic’s girlfriend, Thea (Lisa Arturo). Thea is also not an innocent, she is a con artist always out for a personal advantage. In order to pay back a long standing debt Vic is charged to take care of the witnesses that can put Santo way. As an ‘impendent contractor’ of sorts one of Santo’s main men, Ray, (Michael Madsen) is keeping an eye on Vic and Frank. Ray kills like most men tie their shoelaces. He hates Vic and his partner and pulls at his leash waiting for the okay to take them out. Vic is also caught in the sights of a crooked cop, Ford (Neal McDonough) who pressures Vic to turn in his criminal associates. Vic is also working for Cho and is being pressured by his hit man, Butch (James Russo). In case the plot here isn’t convoluted enough there is a side job that involves Thea and a sizable quantity of heroine. Of course the drug deal goes wrong and the audience gets the first of several shoot outs. Meanwhile back in the bar that seems to cater exclusively to mob types and extras, Layla shows that she likes to control things by dancing seductively in front of Ray. In typical crime show fashion the underling wants the boss’s girl but knows that ultimately this will bring disaster. Thea has one con after another setting up a mark Rich (Robert Berson) in another scheme once again pulling in Vic. Vic is usually around to provide muscle during deals between other people. In this case the meet is set up between Rich and Frank. When the money is produced Frank flashes a badge and he and Vic beat up Rich and take the money. All of this just serves to show that no one in this flick is a person with any redeemable qualities. This is a seedy lot that lives in a world of deception and violence.

Michael Lazar wears many hats in this film. He is not only the writer and director but is also the star and the producer. It is also his first time out in each of these capacities. Perhaps because of this the movie has an unpolished feel. This may have been the goal of Lazar to show a crime flick in a gritty, unvarnished manner but more control is required and Lazar needs some seasoning before he can pull this off. The story line is often vague, unable to maintain the narrative. There are too many side plots for a story like this. Instead of showing a complex world of crime there is just too many storylines that fail to mesh by the end of the movie. This gives the film a rambling sense that loses focus. It might have been better to center the story on the dubious relationship between Vic and Santo which would have provided some motivation for the killing of the witnesses. The pacing is largely lost as the film moves between the side jobs Vic has with Thea, his work for Santo and his dealings with Cho. There are some threads that just hang without apparent resolution such as Layla and Ray and the pressure Ford has on Vic. It appears that Lazar had a lot of ideas and when he received backing for a feature film wanted to get them all in. Tried and true elements from the genre are all here but the mixture just doesn’t work out. There is more talking at the bar than anything else here. At least add some gratuitous violence to hold the attention of the audience.

As an actor Michael Lazar gives a flat performance. He may be trying to play a burnt out man who stated out as a soldier fighting for his country and now has to work as a hit man and thief. For a man with such a background the audience has to wonder why he constantly fails for the schemes proposed by Thea. As the opening proverb states a woman can be a powerful motivator for a man but this stretches things. Lazar doesn’t look menacing enough for the role. He needs to work more on portraying the quiet man with a violent side just under the surface. Lisa Arturo does well as the femme fatale. She is a master class plotter who relies on her sex appeal to get men to do whatever she wants. Michael Madsen is one of the great actors in this genre but here has too little to do. If he played the lead instead of a small supporting role he could have channeled some of his performance in ‘Reservoir Dogs’ or ‘Kill Bill Vol. 2’. Character actor Neal McDonough is also under utilized here. He is a strong presence on screen with little to add to the plot.

This is also a first time for MTI Home Video, their first in-house production. The DVD is presented in full screen video. The movie was filmed on a digital camera to give an intimate, gritty feel and it does work in this. The lighting is mostly natural a bit on the dark side. The color palette is subdued. The audio is in Dolby stereo and has limited channel separation. There were no extras provided on this disc. Considering this was the first time for so many involved in the production too much can’t be expected. There is some potential here that subsequent films may explore.

Posted 03/09/07

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