Surely there must be a market for a bizarre black comedy about an obstetrician whose life spins out of control after his new lawn is destroyed by worm-seeking raccoons, with infidelity, blackmail, dream sequences, poison and one graphic murder by crossbow.
At least the people who made “The Details” are hoping there is. I’m not so sure.
The high points of this movie begin and nearly end with the casting. Tobey Maguire is Jeff Lang, M.D., Elizabeth Banks is his gorgeous wife Nealey, Kerry Washington is his old friend Rebecca, Ray Liotta is her husband Peter, Laura Linney is the doctor’s nutty neighbor, Lila, and Dennis Haysbert, best known as the guy with the deep voice in the Allstate commercials, is the doctor’s basketball buddy, Lincoln. You really want to see these people interact. And that is the saving grace of “The Details,” even when the plot goes badly off the rails.
Said plot is this: Jeff and Nealy have been married for 10 years and have a toddler son, a fancy house and some interest in adding another child. A new lawn full of raccoon-attracting worms and an inexplicable plan to add an illegal extension on their home land Jeff in thrall to the couple’s “wack-a-doodle neighbor,” played by Linney.
In fact, Linney is one of the best things about “The Details.” As she gets to know Dr. Jeff, she changes subtly from a shrieking harridan cat lady to a quirky, retro stunner. She’s nuts, of course, only a bit less menacing than Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest, and, like Alex, she’s nobody’s fool. Lila already has plenty of blackmail material from the illegal home extension and the doctor’s indiscriminate use of raccoon poison, but when she overhears some incriminating details about Dr. Jeff’s extracurriculars, she uses them to her full advantage.
There are several separate plot lines here, which we are supposed to see as a domino effect caused by the destructive raccoons, but that’s more of a wish than a fact. The Jeff-Nealy marriage has stagnated and the doctor has developed a bit of a weird porn addiction, which he confesses to his old friend Rebecca. Lila becomes obsessed with the doctor. Lincoln (despite his graying beard, you’ll hear “Allstate” every time he opens his mouth) inexplicably puts up with tiny Dr. Jeff’s hoops delusions, and needs a kidney. And Nealy has some side deals of her own going on.
Liotta doesn’t have a big part, but he rolls out everything he has – the menacing glare, the verbal scimitars, the extreme physical control – in a brief confrontation with Dr. Jeff on a bridge. Maguire has always seemed a bit creepy to me, with his emotionless face, compressed lips and vapid, limpid eyes, and his spineless role here does nothing to change that opinion. The one time he and Banks, who is mostly a cute blond cipher, scream at each other to illustrate their increasing tension, it’s so fake that you want to laugh.
The whole thing has a very “Desperate Housewives” feel due to the plinky-plinky music, gorgeous homes, snappy dialogue, unexpected sexual encounters and disturbing, semi-graphic violence. But there are some shades of “Fatal Attraction” here, too.
In all, utterly predictable, totally unbelievable and very, very strange. Subtract Liotta and Linney, and you’d have no reason to waste an hour and a half of your life.
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks, Ray Liotta, Kerry Washington, Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert
Director: Jacob Aaron Estes
Running time: 91 minutes
Rating: R for language, sexual content, some drug use and brief violence.
The Lowdown: An obstetrician’s life spins massively out of control after his new lawn is torn up by raccoons. email: firstname.lastname@example.org