Friday, September 21, 2007

Dr. M (1990)

(Spoiler alert.) To date, this flick is the last of numerous films utilizing the name (and often little else) of a character first introduced in Fritz Lang's classic silent Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (1922), to which director Claude Chabrol rather un-ingeniously inserts at least two obvious direct citations in this terribly dull movie: the first citation is the title typeface superimposed during the credit sequence, which is the same as that used for the posters of Lang's original films; the second is a brief recreation of an out-of-place gambling scene midway into the movie. (One could probably consider the fact that the movie is set in Berlin a citation as well.)
Dr. M is one of those semi-science fiction flicks taking place in some near future, a future that was already outdated at the time of the film's release: the near future of the film, which was released after the fall of the Wall, still includes a walled and divided Berlin and, in turn, the separate states of West and East Germany. In regard to the two Germanies, one should cut Chabrol some slack: back when the film was actually filmed nobody — not even those of us living here — ever expected the Wall to one day fall. In all other aspects, however, the future as Chabrol saw it is pretty cheesy. Released in its English language video form under the title Club Extinction, the film is a dreadfully painful experience to watch. Anyone who actually sits through the whole thing will only regret having wasted the time.
In Dr. M, a rash of suicides has taken the city, the numbers of which are so large that some people fear that a mysterious virus might be at work. Police lieutenant Claus Hartman (Jan Niklas) is led by the few leads he has to the model Sonja Vogler (Jennifer Beals), whose image graces the large video-billboards and televisions found everywhere throughout the city, constantly telling the citizens "Time to go." No, she is not telling them to off themselves, but rather that they should go to the vacation resort owned by her ward Dr. Marsfeldt (Alan Bates), who also owns an industrial-goth dance club and the city's main television station. Hartman and Volger end up doing the grind together as some mildly sinister East German man tries to find out what role Dr. Marsfeldt actually plays in this city-wide suicide craze. Eventually the Eastie Beastie gets shot in the back with a ray gun but before he buys it he drags himself across the entire city to the airport to tell everything he knows to Hartman and Voglar and die in their arms. (The happy couple are returning from their escape from Marsfeldt’s resort, where Hartman was not killed despite Marsfeldt's express instructions that he should be. In fact, at one point at the resort, Hartman actually gets overpowered and injected with something that knocks him out for a few hours, but for some reason he is allowed to wake up and more or less walk away from the compound, Voglar in tow.) At the last second, the two manage to stop Marsfeldt's plan of driving the entire city to suicide by hijacking the television broadcast which is meant to set the mass suicide off. Seemingly simultaneously they appear at Marsfeldt's secret hideout in the goth club to listen to him give a long speech about beauty and death before he ends up killing himself and they walk off along the Spree into the early morning sun…
The choppy, illogical story is in no way exciting, suspenseful, witty or particularly intelligent, and the acting is universally horrendous. Most fatally, Chabrol's famed editing technique — a style taken to extreme by the great Doris Wishman — has, in Dr. M, simply degenerated to incompetence. At first, there is some perverse enjoyment to be gotten by the fact that Chabrol obviously cast all parts — but for that those of Alan Bates and Jennifer Beals — on the basis of how bad the German actors' accents are, but not only does the joke becomes old after awhile but it also really adds nothing to the film as a whole.
1990 must have been a bad year indeed for Chabrol; not only did he make this turkey, but he also directed the atrocious film version of Jours tranquilles á Clichy/Quiet Days in Clichy, an unbearable film lacking any all of the wonderful playfulness and languid beauty of Henry Miller's short novel.

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