The Life of David Gale – Dud of the Year, 2003?

Plot: At face value, Alan Parker’s The Life of David Gale possesses all of the ingredients required for a successful thriller. With talented Hollywood darlings Kate Winslet and Kevin Spacey leading the cast and more twists than Chubby Checker, the film could be expected to succeed. Unfortunately, thanks to questionable plot developments, stereotypical characters, and the director’s yearning for a political soapbox, The Life of David Gale is a disappointment.

David Gale (Kevin Spacey) is a successful college professor who’s leading the charge to abolish the death penalty in the US, when he’s not touching student’s lives with his ‘cool’ teaching style or dazzling peers with his brilliance in the field of philosophy. David’s an over-achieving all-star, who can also add the titles of caring father and loving husband to his C.V.

 

However, the onwards and upwards Professor Gale comes unstuck when he has one too many bowls of lunatic soup (nice product placement) at a faculty party and, against the grain of his supposed character, accepts the sexual advances of a very attractive young wuzzle that appears to want his body.

Naturally, the girl cries foul and the dazed and confused Gale ends up losing his family, his job, and the respect of his activist colleagues. When he climbs inside a bottle and drunkenly roams the streets waxing lyrical about Plato, it doesn’t look like life could get any worse for the ex-shooting star. Hey, but it does!

My tie is red. She’s not wearing any underwear. 52 toothpicks. Definitely 52 toothpicks…
And we’re looking… we’re looking… what was supposed to happen here, again?

Gale’s good friend and fellow death penalty abolitionist, Connie (Laura Linney), is found dead with a certain doctor of philosophy’s DNA inside her. Apparently, few questions are asked as to why Gale would rape and kill one of his best friends, and the blind wheels of justice roll. With a large dollop of manufactured irony, the Professor winds up on Death Row.

Years pass and it’s just three days until Gale’s big date with the needle when he accepts his first interview with the media. Rather than Larry King or one of the team at Sixty Minutes, Elizabeth ‘Bitsey’ Bloom (Kate Winslet), a dedicated young print journalist, gets the gig. A series of chats between Bloom and Gale follows and (surprise, surprise) the young reporter finds herself in a desperate race against time to save an innocent man.

Spacey (The Usual Suspects, American Beauty), to his credit, tries valiantly to make his character believable. The 43 year old actor brings his knack at being affable to the fore and salvages a handful of scenes in the film. However, all the talent of a dual Oscar winner can’t completely save the poorly written character. There’s no doubt that the role of David Gale will be one that Spacey would like forgotten.

RUN! THERE’S ONE RIGHT BEHIND YOU!
Oh my God! The tombstones! They’re friggin’ EVERYWHERE!

Producing most of the film’s cringe factor is British actress Kate Winslet (Titanic, Hideous Kinky). If the tired portrayal of yet another hardnosed-journalist-on-a-crusade-for-the truth isn’t enough to earn a Raspberry nomination, then perhaps the strained attempt at an American accent is. Even staunch Winslet fans may want to give The Life of David Gale a chance to hit the shelves at the local video store.

Added to the acting stew are Laura Linney (The Mothman Prophecies, Primal Fear) and Gabriel Mann (Buffalo Soldiers, The Bourne Identity). Not surprisingly, Linney brings her usual dose of excessive emotion and sincerity to yet another character. She’s the female equivalent of Brian Dennehy, and is relied upon to dish up the same performance again and again. Mann, who plays Winslet’s abrasive sidekick, delivers fairly well despite looking suspiciously like professional fool Tom Green.

Director Alan Parker is no stranger to beating the political drum. While the process was well balanced and executed (pardon the pun) in Mississippi Burning (1988), the veteran filmmaker goes over the top in The Life of David Gale.

My tie is red. She’s not wearing any underwear. 52 toothpicks. Definitely 52 toothpicks…
You’re watching me watch a movie. Obviously, you’re having as much fun as I am.

It’s already clear which way Hollywood votes, and Parker’s inclusion of such statements as “70% of serial killers vote Republican” only detracts from a rational argument, not to mention the movie’s storyline. It’s a very poor performance from the director that shone with Midnight Express (1977) and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1981). Of course, Parker is also the man that unleashed Bugsy Malone (1975), Fame (1979), and The Commitments (1990).

The Life of David Gale is a serious contender for Dud of the Year, 2003. All the potential in the world can’t save the film from the clutches of a poorly written script and a political zealot for a director. It may have broken even with two and a half monkeys, but the addition of Winslet’s terrible accent relegates The Life of David Gale to just two. Give this one a miss.

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