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The Alibi
cast: Steve Coogan, Rebecca Romijn, Sam Elliott, Selma Blair, and Henry Rollins

directors: Matt Checkowski and Kurt Mattila

90 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
EIV DVD Region 2 rental / retail
[released 20 November]

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Everyone lies. Whether it's a white lie about how someone has lost weight or that ineffably English lie of 'Oh really, it's no bother', used most often when the person in question is on fire, the lie is the grease in the wheel of society. Ray Elliott is the man who applies the grease. Ray is at the head of an elite firm of trouble-shooters whose job is simple; enable people to get away with everything from infidelities to the smaller lies that help society function. He doesn't do violent crimes and he will not under any circumstances be used as an instrument of revenge. Other than that, all bets are off and Ray will bill your account. It's a good job, provides a service which is either altruistic, deeply seedy, or both, and it's about to get Ray into the most trouble he's ever been in.

Steve Coogan's flirtation with film has provided us with some variable but very unusual entertainment over the last few years. Ranging from his astonishing performance as Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People to the more recent A Cock And Bull Story, Coogan has quietly become one of the more unusual and interesting performers on the market. It's unusual then that this particular film fell under the radar. Here, Coogan plays Ray as something between Danny Ocean and the Connery-era Bond, an unflappable man-about-town with an absolute faith in himself and an answer for everything. Ray is both effortlessly cool and resolutely old fashioned, a Cary Grant figure that coasts through the dirtier side of life whilst never quite getting any on him. It's a credit to Coogan's performance that he both makes Ray an eminently likeable character and somehow manages to remain the centre of attention in one of the most stacked film casts of recent years.

The Alibi's cast is an embarrassment of riches with even minor roles played by some of the best actors working today. Ray's nemesis, the Mormon, a contract killer who wants Ray to work for him is a prime example. The Mormon is played by Sam Elliott, here turning in an excellent performance that's somewhere between biblical patriarch and psychopathic contract killer. Amongst his bodyguards is the ageing alternative icon himself, Henry Rollins, as some of the most genial hired muscle ever seen in a film like this, whilst Selma Blair plays one of the Mormon's wives. The cast is rounded out by the likes of James Brolin as Ray's first client, James Marsden as his feckless son, and John Leguizamo as the boyfriend of the girl Ray is accused of murdering. The cast is practically a role call of the best character actors of the last 15 years and, paired with Coogan and the great central premise, they should be part of a real winner.

They're not. The Alibi tries too hard, throws in one too many plot twists and loses several of its characters and a lot of its charm doing so. The film spends so much time setting up the horrible situation Ray finds himself in, and then the insanely complicated plan he hatches to get out of it, that it manages to feel both overlong and rushed. To make matters worse, the female cast are either horribly underused or horribly written. Blair, one of the smartest (and funniest) actresses of the last ten years is stuck with a walking stereotype, whilst Debi Mazar is effectively a plot device with a name. Worst served of all is Rebecca Romijn, who turns in what should be a career making performance here. As Ray's new partner Lola, she's fantastic, playing Lola as the only other person in the world on Ray's level, just as smart, just as devious and if anything slightly better at the work than Ray is. Her first few scenes with him sparkle with the effortless banter of the heist movies The Alibi desperately wants to be and promise a lot more than we end up getting. Ultimately, Romijn is reduced to a cameo for the middle hour of the film and only really comes into play in the final 20 minutes. By that time, the film has lost much of its charm and all of its momentum.

The Alibi should have been fantastic and in fairness parts of it are. Coogan is great, Romijn, when the script remembers she's there, is the same, and Rollins and Jim Cody Williams are great fun as a pair of over polite thugs. However, in the end, this is a curate's egg of a film that somehow ends up as less than the sum of its considerable parts.

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