Give’Em Hell Malone plays out like a step-cousin of Robert Rodriguez’ Sin City. Both movies feature film noir characters, fedora hats, femmes fatale, old cars, menacing hitmen, and at the same time e-mail and cellphones. Of the two, Sin City is more visually creative and has a stronger story, but Malone is fun too if you like the genre.
Thomas Jane plays Malone, a hired gun with only one name. His own mother only calls him Malone, but it’s not because she is so old she forgot his first name. She still has enough functioning brain matter to take bullets out of her son’s body in the relative privacy of her retirement home. After a particularly deadly shootout, Malone walks into the lobby of the home and the receptionist tells him to try to keep the screaming to a minimum this time.
This particular shootout, the most violent of the whole movie, occurred over a suitcase that Malone was paid to recover. Here is a classic film noir object: a suitcase with a mysterious content that everyone is after and no one really knows why. For Malone it’s even more mysterious. When he opens the case it filled with meaningless papers and a small toy elephant which he tells everyone is the meaning of love. Cheesy, but it is meaningless in the grand scheme of the movie. What matters is that he has opened the case and now the story begins.
When he goes to his handler Murphy (Leland Orser) to demand an explanation as to why he was sent to retrieve the case, he meets the client Evelyn (Elsa Pataky) who is the movie’s femme fatale. She is gorgeous and says that she hired Malone because her brother was kidnapped and if the case isn’t brought to an amusement park, he is a dead man. The amusement park is a nice touch and is actually the setting for two fights in the movie. You can have a lot of fun with guns at a deserted amusement park, especially in a house of mirrors.
The plot isn’t as important as the characters and the fights. Once the city’s main gangster, Whitmore (Gregory Harrison), knows that Malone has the case, he hires three killers to find him. One is called Boulder, because he is played by Ving Rhames and if you’re going to have a big guy play a hitman, you may as well call him Boulder. The second is Matchstick (Doug Hutchinson) a pyromaniac who really should know not to play with matches. Last but not least is Mauler (Chris Yen) an Asian killer who is first presented as a little girl sucking on a lollipop, but is later shown dismembering a guy with sword. I guess she brings her cutlery at restaurants.
One of the joys of a movie like this is the R rating. Nowadays big-budget summer movies always try to be rated PG-13 in order to attract a larger audience. The advantage with a straight-to-DVD movie is that the filmmakers already know that they won’t make a fortune, so what do they have to lose by including profanity, violence, and gallons of blood? Not much and it also allows the writers to write a scene where Ving Rhames punches one of two guards in the face and tell the other one, “Next time there’s a new guy, tell him the big bad black motherfucker goes.” You won’t see this in Transformers.
You also have to admire the production values. Everyone wears snappy suits, fire loud six-shooters, and drive cars from the 1940s. Unlike Sin City, Give’Em Hell Malone was shot on location in the city of Spokane, which seems to be impervious to time. There are no McDonalds, Starbucks, or KFCs anywhere in the film, but there are lots of brick buildings and liquor stores. Edward Hopper would have liked this city.
The downside is that once you know what it’s all about, the payoff is not as rewarding as you would have liked, and if you look back it doesn’t really make sense. But then again it rarely does. When you have gangsters and degenerates hunting for a mysterious case, it’s not the reward but the chase that matters.