No Such Thing

on March 29, 2002 by Ed Scheid
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   In a change of pace from his distinctive deadpan comedies, Hal Harley (“Henry Fool”) adds some contemporary twists to the Beauty and the Beast legend. Robert John Burke, who has appeared in three Hartley films including “Simple Men,” plays the sinister, foul-mouthed and hard-drinking Monster who has been terrorizing remote areas of Iceland. Burke's make-up effectively gives him the appearance of being carved from a tree trunk.

   The Boss (Helen Mirren) of a New York TV news program continually drives her staff for exclusive coverage of the worst news possible. When a camera crew disappears after traveling to Iceland to film the Monster, Beatrice (“The Claim's” Sarah Polley), who has a menial job at the show, asks to go to Iceland to investigate, as her fiancé is among the missing camera crew. After Beatrice meets the Monster in Iceland, she develops an unexpected sympathy for him, and when she brings him back to New York, the Boss helps turn the Monster into the latest celebrity of the moment.

   Though “No Such Thing” lacks the unique style and unpredictability of Hartley's previous comedies, with only a few minor characters speaking in the auteur's trademark deadpan style, Hartley adds enough quirky and satirical touches in the screenplay to keep the film entertaining. The two leads are well-cast: Polley gives Beatrice a youthful determination that contrasts well with the bitter anger of Burke's Monster. Mirren takes what could have been a throwaway stock character and, with hard-edged delivery and commanding presence, makes the Boss the comic highlight of the film and a match for any monster. As the doctor who helps Beatrice in Iceland, Julie Christie doesn't have much to do except offer a warm presence. Starring Sarah Polley, Robert John Burke, Helen Mirren and Julie Christie. Directed and written by Hal Hartley. Produced by Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, Hal Hartley and Cecilia Kate Roque. A United Artists release. Satirical comedy. Not yet rated. Running time: 103 min

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