Domino

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Keira Knightley wants to kick some ass. She does her best in Domino to shake off the powder-puff girl-power veneer of her Bend It Like Beckham days, and lose the sickly sweet love-interest persona she earned in Pirates of the Caribbean and Love Actually.

Armed with a new-wave hairdo, rifle, ammo slung across her chest and a newfound bad-girl ’tude fully charged, the willowy Knightley storms into the role with all the bravado of a heavyweight action star in the middle of a ’roid rage. Knightley’s hardcore makeover is gutsy — and pretty fun to watch — but her efforts are all but wasted in this disjointed, flimsily thought-out action picture from director Tony Scott (Top Gun, Crimson Tide).

The film is loosely based on the travails of real rich-girl-turned-bounty-hunter Domino Harvey, who died of a drug overdose earlier this year. The British daughter of swinging ’60s model Paulene Stone and Manchurian Candidate actor Laurence Harvey, she spent her formative years getting kicked out of boarding schools. After her father died she was left with a sizable inheritance, and allegedly spent time working as a model before moving to Beverly Hills with her mum. The movie mostly centers on her becoming a bounty hunter — a hired gun who returns runaway crooks to the authorities.

Scott and screenwriter Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) used interviews with Harvey to create their tale, although once the heroine is fully armed and hunting bad guys, Domino takes several radical turns into fiction.

Scott tells the story in fragments and flashbacks, using surreal imagery (flashes of flipping coins and religious icons, plus a hallucinatory vision of Tom Waits in the middle of the desert) and machine-gun-blasting action to fill in the gaps. The result looks like the lovechild of Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, although glossier, dumbed-down and more explosive than anything they’d produce.

There are funny, yet out of place, jokes — one involves former cast members of 90210, who serve as “celebrity hostages” in the final showdown. Funnier yet is Mo’Nique Imes-Jackson: Her cameo bit on a fake Springer show is sidesplitting, albeit wholly tangential. But the gags and bizarre imagery do nothing but momentarily distract the audience from the nagging question that runs through the whole movie: What the hell is going on? The plot is told with plenty of stops and starts, and veers from one confusing twist to the next, ultimately heading nowhere.

Scott repeats a real quote from Harvey about bounty hunting being like flipping a coin: “Heads you win; tails you die.” Scott likely flipped his own coin: “Heads you get substance; tails, all style.” Tails won, apparently.

The real Harvey was reportedly unhappy with the Hollywood fable that was born of her life story. She wanted to make a documentary, but her real-life struggles caught up to her in the end. Seems she was far more complex than just another chick-with-a-gun flick.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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