Guy X Review
It's 1979 and army private Rudy Spruance (Jason Biggs) believes that he's on a flight to a new posting in Hawaii. Hot sun, beautiful women and the warm wash of the Pacific await him but a mixup in command, or a fuck up as the film has it, sees him arrive in Greenland instead. Dumped unceremoniously onto the runway from a cargo plane and given a posting as the new Public Information Officer in an army base at the very top of the world, no one believes that he's not Martin Pedersen, least of all his new commanding officer, Colonel Woolwrap (Jeremy Northam).
When his attempts at escape fail, Spruance figures that its better to face life as Pedersen than a court martial so he settles into life as the new PIO. In the shape of Sergeant Irene Teale (Natascha McElhone), he realises that the base has its charms and so long as he enjoys the latest R'n'R on offer and avoids the mosquitoes, life in Greenland, though it ain't Hawaii, isn't the hardship he'd first thought it to be. But as he gets on with being Pedersen and editing The Harpoon, Woolwrap's morale-boosting newspaper, he finds that he's not alone in not being quite who he's meant to be...least of all Guy X (Michael Ironside), who Spruance finds in a classified medical ward buried underneath the mountains.
When even the very least of us are movie-literate enough not to run out of a cinema at the sight of an approaching train or to know that Bruce Willis didn't perish within an asteroid, Guy X is something of an easy pill to swallow. This cinema shorthand takes in Natascha McElhone, who we'll know will have a relationship with Spruance. Speaking of whom, we'll figure his Rudy Spruance as a cool anti-hero to the piece, while he'll warm, figuratively speaking to Greenland, which will be revealed as a place with a particularly out-of-the-way view of the world. Biggs and McElhone aside we'll work out the rest of the cast to be a carefree bunch of eccentrics, particularly Lavone (Sean Tucker), Slim (Rob deLeeuw), Chaplain Brank (Harry Standjofski) and Petri (Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Hylnur in 101 Reykyavik), who warm to Rudy Spruance's mixed-up postings with some of their own.
There's even mention of Vietnam to suggest that there's a guilty secret in the army base, known to Colonel Woolwrap, which Spruance discovers via a rusting door in the mountainside. As mention of Vietnam in a slasher movie typically ushers in a crazy-as-shit Vet, here we take it to mean there's something terrible, hidden sufficiently far away from Washington so as not to stain the conscience of the nation.
Based on John Griesemer's novel No One Thinks of Greenland, this is an innocent post-Vietnam retread of M*A*S*H and Catch-22 with none of those film's sexual gags. Whilst McElhone and Biggs do have a relationship, it's complicated by her affair with Northam but settles itself fairly sweetly. And that's amongst the best can say about Guy X, which, like Northern Exposure, dallies in the eccentricities of more northerly climes whilst revealing something of a mystery behind it. The peculiar way of Guy X will be familiar to anyone who's enjoyed Noi Albinoi, Cold Fever or 101 Reykyavik but it mixes a military aesthetic with their peculiarities but also adds a welcome touch of mystery.
The real stars of the film, though, are not those on screen but those behind the camera. Director Saul Metzstein (Late Night Shopping) and cinematographer François Dagenais have made a film that's often stunning to look at with imagery that will linger in the mind long after the story has been forgotten. Where they've given the Icelandic landscapes, where the film was shot, a stark, clear-skied beauty that's impressive, the images of an army jeep circling over the US flag, the lonely Coke machine in the arms depot and the hopeless bash to celebrate the midnight sun are all ones that remained in this viewer's mind. Otherwise, McElhone is a photogenic female lead and Michael Ironside, who's always a memorable actor, stands out here for very different reasons. Buried under a good deal of make-up, Ironside is bed-ridden for much of the film but the type of character he's made his own remains and despite competition from Biggs, Northam and Tucker, his hopelessness and determination is impressive.
As intriguing as all this is, it still doesn't make for a particularly great film. Maybe a good one but not a great one. Part of the problem may be the difficulty in bring a military satire to the screen. Though it has its fans, the film of Catch-22 is very far from being as good as the book and although Guy X makes much of the Icelandic countryside, it's not otherwise a very strong film. As such, I suspect it will appeal to those who enjoyed passing the time with Noi or Hylnur but who can also appreciate its quiet conspiracy.
With a good transfer onto DVD, this shows off the crisp Icelandic landscape to a well-above-average level of clarity. Much of Guy X works like an Anton Corbijn music video, in that individual frames of it look good enough to pass as the kind of photography that you'd once have bought at Athena and the disc presents it well. Colours are bright, the sky looks to be a clear blue and the thick snow that falls in the film's winter months do nothing to upset the image. Though uncomplicated and with little action in the background, this still good work by Tartan.
The three soundtrack options are generally very good, with the Dolby Digital 5.1 sounding as though it was the original theatrical option. The DTS track, though slightly louder, is not that much of an improvement - both show a similar use of the surround channels and an equal clarity - whilst the stereo options sounds flat by comparison. Finally, there are English subtitles.
Commentary: Director and star, Saul Metzstein and Jason Biggs, are together for this track and, given how well they get on, suggest that the actual shoot was more fun than most. Metzstein talks almost non-stop throughout the film, sounding less interested in the technicalities of the production than in the various locations, the attitudes of the actors and laughing along with his own movie, but Biggs isn't what you might call a silent partner in this, listening a great deal but not unafraid to contribute. An enjoyable commentary, then, but not one to go back to a second time.
Interview w/ Saul Metzstein (18m36s): Sat in front of the theatrical poster, the director answers a very standard set of questions from a silent interviewer - the questions appear on a card between Metzstein's answers - regarding his choice of the subject, of the issue of military corruption in the film and how he thinks the film will be received in America. The interview also covers audience and industry reaction to Late Night Shopping but the best moment is his discussion of how the timeframe of the novel from shortly after the Korean war to after the Vietnam war.
Interview w/ Jason Biggs (9m32s): With Metzstein taking the lion's share of the creative decisions and answering those questions in his interview, it's left to Biggs to answer the less questions. Hence, Biggs is left with whether he enjoyed filming in Iceland, if M*A*S*H, Catch-22 and Buffalo Soldiers were good points of reference, or if he avoided them and if the film and his character was pro-soldier. Biggs answers the questions fairly but both the questions and his answers are very typical of an actor.
Deleted Scenes (1m59s): These are fairly inconsequential, featuring a little place-setting, some further development of the McElhone-Biggs relationship and another reading of Walt Whitman's poetry.
Finally, there's the Original Theatrical Trailer (2m20s) and a Tartan Trailer Reel, which includes those for Sky Blue (1m56s), Silver City (2m24s) and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2m12s).
Guy X won't be for everyone - it's too slow, too laidback and too open-ended for most but it's enjoyable for anyone who's not expecting a film to reveal all of its plotting. As a confirmed fan of the sometimes-aimless Castle Keep, I wholly enjoyed Guy X but was disappointed by it not daring to be as odd as it initially threatened to, finding that it took safer routes in its plotting the longer it went on. Whilst that ensures the film remains coherent, it also drags it to safety and away from the surrealism of Castle Keep or the inspired comedy of M*A*S*H, which, given its early promise, is something of a disappointment.