Stephen Whitty

Columnist, critic for national and international outlets. Author, lecturer, host.

May. 7, 2020
3 min read
Chameleon

Almost anyone is capable of anything, and in noir, they’re always capable of much worse.

More of a mood than a genre, film noir is filled with sadistic husbands, femme fatales and poor jerks who always get left holding the bag. There are no happy endings. Sometimes there’s barely an ending at all.

The tight, low-budget Chameleon is a new entry and for awhile it provides some spare but stylish pleasures.

The story features Joel Hogan as Patrick, an Aussie-expat just out of an American prison. Good behavior, the warden said.

Except then Patrick re-connects with an old cellmate, Dolph, and his conduct takes a turn for the worse.

Dolph has a two-man plan, it seems. Handsome Patrick seduces rich men’s trophy wives, sneaking them away for a romantic weekend. Dolph kidnaps them. Then Patrick, playing innocent, calls the husband, saying he woke up to find a ransom note.

The husband pays, the wife is returned, and Dolph and Patrick move on to the next rich town.

It’s a good little scheme, and for the most part Chameleon is a good little movie. Director Marcus Mizelle, a former cinematographer, has a smart idea and he breaks up the narrative in interesting ways.

There are flash-forwards, and flashbacks. Sometimes the same scene is repeated from different characters’ vantage points. Although it’s sometimes confusing, it’s always interesting.

Helping too is a fresh, and mostly unfamiliar cast, including the slippery Hogan, and Alicia Leigh Willis as one of his marks. A grinning Donald Prabatah does what he can with what could have an ugly stereotype, Patrick’s thuggish black cohort.

Mizelle also gets the maximum out of his budget, and his crew. There are some pretty seascapes, and a few interesting locations – an endless orange grove, a field full of wind turbines, their blades slashing the air. The score, by Jeremy Nathan Tisser, gets the most out of a minimalist, moody drone.

The only problem is that Mizelle seems to run out of story before he runs out of movie.

Literally. The film ends after a scant 71 minutes; to stretch things out to its feature-film length, the closing credits crawl by for nine minutes more.

But Mizelle has already used up all his ideas by the hour mark. None of Patrick and Dolph’s victims is really fleshed out. A major third-act twist isn’t set up with the sort of character development and detail that would make it plausible. And at the end, we’re left almost as bewildered as the characters.

Like Patrick, Chameleon is good-looking and charming and fun, particularly if you don’t look too closely. But look a little bit harder, and you’ll see that, like him, it’s also a bit of a con.