Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/08/19 11:10:44

"Fun mayhem around what might be Robert Patrick's best role."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 21: Richard Bates Jr. makes a valiant effort to frame "Tone-Deaf" in a way where its black comedy is about something bigger than just the funny murder, although I'm not sure that it's that deep: There's more there than "get a load of those Boomers/Millennials and their messed-up priorities!", but maybe not that much. It is, at least, pretty consistently funny, with an especially entertaining turn from a guy who seldom seems to get a role this good.

It starts with Olive (Amanda Crew) having her life blow up - fired at work, kicking the cheating boyfriend out - and while she probably won't miss that particular job or guy, it still kind of sucks. She takes the advice of hippie mom Crystal (Kim Delaney) to get out of town for a weekend, renting a nice-looking house online. She's not sure exactly what she's supposed to do now that she's gotten away from the city on her own, but it's a bit uncomfortable that Harvey (Robert Patrick), the place's owner, seems to be around a bit more than is ideal - he's old-fashioned, recently lost his wife, and maybe starting to have memory issues. It's probably time for him to start crossing items off his bucket list. Unfortunately for Olive, the top item is killing someone.

Robert Patrick has had a weird career, bursting onto the scene playing a robot so enveloped by visual effects that it is easy to overlook just how much his specific cool intensity made Terminator 2 work and arguably stepping into a no-win situation replacing David Duchovny on The X-Files for his highest-profile leading role, filling the spaces around that with various cops, soldiers, and other authority figures, advancing in rank as he has aged and getting more of a chance to break out some dry humor as the grizzled vet. He has, as a result, grown into being able to play guys like Harvey as just the right sort of familiar that he can get away with being somewhat abrasive. It's more than just leveraging what's become a effective persona, though; he's able to grab a few of the movie's funniest moments, play as an effective horror-movie villain, and also convey the more existential horror of feeling your mind start to slip away. It's an impressively rounded character and performance for this sort of genre film - maybe not the best thing Patrick has ever done, but not as far off as one might think.

It doesn't push Amanda Crew's Olive out of the way, which is a credit to her and Bates. Olive's not the sort of heroine that's ever going to get a viewer to root for her attackers, but she has just enough reflexive cynicism and egocentric nature that she can kind of be work even if she's also coming across as smart and generally good-natured. The script demands she shift gears on a regular basis and she's up to it, gaining strength from scenes where she might be worried about rubbing a viewer the wrong way an simplifies to more basic emotions when it's time for action.

It doesn't hurt at all that Olive makes a lot of sense as the daughter of an effortlessly charming but secretly dark Ray Wise and a self-centered but level-headed Kim Delaney, putting large chunks of Tone-Deaf solidly in Bates's dysfunctional family wheelhouse even as he tries to present Olive vs. Harvey as a generational conflict. His story is, as has often been the case with him, kind of messy, loaded up with tangents and often jumping between extreme darkness and flippant comedy without finding a lot of middle ground, and he's not exactly subtle in other ways (it's hard to miss that Harvey has retreated from the open, bright yellow house to a wedge that seems jammed into a sunless hillside). He counts a lot on the individual pieces being good enough that the whiplash between them isn't too much.

That's been Bates's method for all his features, and the balance here is better than it's often been before. As much as Crew and Patrick do a nice job of representing their respective age groups, it's not really that movie, but being a good Bates-style mix of dark comedy, horror, and messed-up relationships is pretty good too.

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