April 8, 2010

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Don McKay (R)
Thomas Haden Church stars in Don McKay, either a kooky take on the horror film or an elaborate prank on the audience.

April Fools! None of what you’re about to see makes sense.

Don McKay (Church) is a hangdog-faced high school janitor shlumping it through his days until he gets a letter. He immediately returns to his home town, where he hasn’t been for years, and goes straight to the home of Sonny (Elisabeth Shue), his teenage girlfriend to whom he has always written but not spoken in 25 years. She is dying, she tells him, and she wants him to stay with her the rest of her short life.

Why, exactly, isn’t clear. After all, she has an odd caretaker in Marie (Melissa Leo), a strangely prim woman living with her and reminding her of doctor’s appointments. And then there’s the doctor, Dr. Lance Pryce (James Rebhorn), a weirdly intense medical professional making suffocating house calls. But Don follows her plan — which involves some sex on their first night together. In the morning, things quickly go from weird to “Run! Run fast!” Naturally, he doesn’t and the crazy keeps on coming.

The mystery of just what Sonny wants with Don is only one in this film. There’s the question of who the heck Marie is. There’s the strange taxi driver Samuel (M. Emmet Walsh). There’s the fact that Don McKay seems to be fairly well-known in the town and not in a happy “hey, weren’t you the star quarterback” kind of way. The movie answers none of the questions in a way you think it will — a plus in this age of seemingly identical suspense/horror-type movies. But it also answers these questions in ways that don’t entirely make sense when you leave the theater.

Not that that necessarily means that the movie is a failure. There is something highly watchable in all this oddness. Shue — who I last saw having fun as an alternate version of herself, Elisabeth Shue the actress who became a nurse because she was sick of the movie business, in Hamlet 2 — is all crazy-eyes here. It makes for a fascinating if not particularly good performance. Is she hiding something? Do people know she’s hiding something? Is it more of a denial kind of hiding? Are we in the audience the only ones not in on the joke? And then Church, at first a bland guy being movied upon, starts to get strange and the film becomes either more sinister or funnier, I couldn’t decide which. Don McKay is more a puzzle than a movie. C+

Rated R for language and some violence. Written and directed by Jake Goldberger, Don McKay is an hour and 27 minutes long and distributed in limited release by Image Entertainment.