Dir. Hal Hartley. 2006. R. 118mins. Parker Posey, James Urbaniak, Jeff Goldblum, Thomas Jay Ryan.
If you think the idea of a sequel to Hartley’s most unexpectedly successful film Henry Fool sounds odd—and heaven knows it should sound odd—then the shape of the sequel is likely to seem downright bizarre. When last we saw Henry (Ryan), he was fleeing the law by switching identities with the implausibly successful garbageman-turned-poet Simon Grim (Urbaniak). Ten years later, we find Simon’s sister Fay (Posey), who was married to Henry, dealing with the usual problems of raising a child alone while Simon does a stint in prison for helping Henry disappear. Henry may or may not be dead.
Then the CIA comes calling, asking Fay to fly to Paris and retrieve some of Henry’s notorious notebooks. Those notebooks apparently contain information that Agent Fulbright (Goldblum) assures Fay is of vital importance to the government. Fay agrees to run this little errand in exchange for the release of her brother from the slammer, and off she goes to Paris, where she encounters enough twists, turns, double-crosses and red herrings to make Robert Ludlum blush.
Hartley’s superdry, is-this-comedy? tone seems oddly matched to the machinations of a spy thriller. For much of this film, we felt like a little kid reading a book aimed at adults; Fay Grim is surely about something other than spies and coded documents and government malfeasance, but we’re damned if we can figure out just what that something is. (Opens Fri; Landmark’s Century Centre.)—Hank Sartin