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REVIEW: Polanski's 'Carnage' Falls Flat; Star Jodie Foster its Weakest Link

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 (Sony Pictures Classics)

Love him or hate him, Roman Polanski is back. The self-exiled filmmaker hasn’t directed a comedy since 1967s “The Fearless Vampire Killers,” and boy does it show.

“Carnage” attempts to create comedy out of irony. Two boys get into a schoolyard brawl and their sets of parents meet to civilly resolve the issue. But things don’t go according to plan. Pride mixed with jealousy, a little dash of contempt and the two bourgeois couples spiral out of control into a vomitous (seriously) battle of childish quarrels.   

Unfortunately the only irony is that “Carnage,” directed by one of cinema's most acclaimed filmmakers, and adapted from Yasmina Reza’s uproarious stage play “God of Carnage,” is rarely funny and falls terribly flat on celluloid.

Running a mere 80 minutes, “Carnage” still feels longer than it should. Confined to only four characters and an upper crust Brooklyn apartment, “Carnage” is essentially the stage play on screen; little is added to make the film cinematic.

The longer the clock ticks the less believable the film becomes. The characters are nightmarishly trapped in the apartment with little chance of escape. Initially both hosts and guests are arrogant, if not civilly rude to each other, begging the question: who’d stick around for this? As chaos ensues and dirty laundry is aired in the tiny space, the ridiculous-factor is amped all the way up to outlandish.

For the most part, the cast is great. Jodie Foster, though, is terribly miscast as the anxious, sniffling and whining Penelope Longstreet, a struggling writer with a grudge against Kate Winslet’s socialite Nancy Cowan. When emotions runs thick and tempers flare, the cast handles the descent into primitive madness very well… except Foster. Once liquor takes control of the characters and they all stoop to stark raving lunacy, Foster’s stilted delivery and unbelievable anger is cause to cringe… for all the wrong reasons.

Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz shines the brightest as Winslet’s heedless husband. Waltz’s delivery is impeccable and his candor is the most entertaining. Winslet, too, shows a comically detestable side. There’s great pleasure in seeing the typically ‘serious’ actress spiral down to grim stupidity.  John C. Reilly is delightful, as usual, and provides the only realism in the film.

Carnage is an inverted and contemporary “Lord of the Flies,” where the adults, not the kids, are stripped to their primal selves. When executed well, the story is a superb social experiment, but unfortunately Polanski gives us a bland and fizzling undertaking. 

Stick to the play.

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