[Screen It]


(2020) (David Strathairn, Kate Bosworth) (R)

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Drama: A farmer takes on an oil company for poisoning his land, all while their regional director contends with that and an enforcer they've sent to deal with the situation.

Gigi Cutler (KATE BOSWORTH) is a regional director of Royal Shore Oil who's been called to task by her boss (ALFRED MOLINA) who's unhappy about how things have turned out under her watch in the California region she controls. We then flashback to see widowed farmer Fred Stern (DAVID STRATHAIRN) who, along with his friend and longtime foreman, Santiago (EDWARD JAMES OLMOS), is upset about Royal's wastewater poisoning his orchards.

Gigi sends a local guy, Alex (HALEY JOEL OSMENT), who worked for Fred years ago to give him a buyout offer, but the farmer isn't happy with the lowball amount, especially when he learns how much money Royal has made. He ends up hiring lawyer Ralph Aegis (MARTIN SHEEN) who successfully sued Ford over the exploding Pinto cars years ago and hopes he can help him take on the oil giant.

In response, the company not only sends their lawyer, Olive Gore (KATIE ASELTON), to deal with this development, but also an enforcer, Ezekiel (PABLO SCHREIBER), to convince Fred to change his mind while also putting Alex and Gigi in their place. As that goon ups his efforts, Fred remains steadfast in his desire to have the oil company pay for his damages.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10

Near the end of "The Devil Has a Name," the trial lawyer character played by Martin Sheen uses the phrase "net present value." Its official definition is "the value in the present of a sum of money, in contrast to some future value it will have when it has been invested at compound interest."

As pointed out by the lawyer best known for taking the explosion-prone Ford Pinto to task, however, it's described as the decision point for a business in that if profits exceed the costs of getting caught in some form of wrongdoing to achieve said profits, then you continue operating in the status quo.

In the same line of thought, as long as corporations have made money at the expense and well-being of the "little guy" until they're exposed, then movies about such David and Goliath stories will continue to be told. Such is the case with this flick that carries the "inspired by" disclaimer up front.

Not that I've looked that hard, but I couldn't find the true story that inspired this offering from screenwriter Robert McEveety and is directed by Edward James Olmos. Needless to say, I have a feeling a great deal of artistic license has been taken with whatever the truth was in this offering that, when first announced, was described as an environmental, dark comedy.

It's certainly an odd duck of a flick, with characters and parts of disparate movie genres shoehorned into one, uneven, poorly edited offering that gets the point across, but with little to no gravitas or, despite the "dark comedy" labeling, much in the way of humor.

It begins in such an over-the-top, near campy way -- with Alfred Molina playing an angry oil company executive of some sort haranguing his regional "why am I here" director, Gigi (Kate Bosworth), over lost money to the point of saying she's lucky he doesn't have to go all Lee Harvey Oswald on her -- that you half expect Adam West and Burt Ward to show up for some "Wham!" "Pow!" action.

Instead, we flashback to discover what led to such theatrics and that's when we find David Strathairn and Olmos appearing in a new version of "Grumpy Old Men" or something akin. Strathairn's farmer character is upset because the neighboring oil field is polluting his groundwater and thus his orchard, while Olmos' foreman is upset because, well, he's just an old immigrant anarchist.

The two complain, kid each other, and even jostle when the foreman mentions it being a year since the farmer's wife died, but the latter is distracted when Haley Joel Osment shows up and offers to low-ball buy his farmland. Apparently, back when he used to see dead people, Alex worked for Fred on the farm, but now he's rubbed him the wrong way to the point of chasing him across town in just a bath towel wielding a golf club.

Mad about the money -- $20 billion over ten years -- that's somehow been made at just his loss, Fred seeks out Ralph "Pinto goes boom" Wegis in hopes of recouping his losses and then some.

Corporate doesn't take kindly to that and thus sends a goon (Pablo Schreiber) from an entirely different movie -- seemingly trying to channel Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh from "No Country For Old Men" -- to deal with Fred, Alex, and Gigi which he does in a weird, sexual intimidation of both sexes sort of way.

The actual court case and bringing Goliath to justice feels like an afterthought -- notwithstanding the running joke of Sheen's litigator needing to use the bathroom constantly -- and thus steals that part of the film's do-gooder thunder.

Had the overall flick been better, that might have been okay as we've seen countless versions of this tale before. And had the individual parts been expanded into their own flicks (especially Bosworth hamming it up in full-blown "Really? You know I could give a crap" posturing), those could have worked better as well. As a whole, however, it doesn't coalesce into any sort of entertaining or engaging effort, not helped by some truly sub-par editing and overall storytelling flow.

In terms of "net present value" and considering the name actors who appear here and the salaries they likely drew, it's highly unlikely this flick will make enough money to offset its costs or future earnings. "The Devil Has a Name" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed October 12, 2020 / Posted October 16, 2020

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