** out of *****
How much you respond to Ned Rifle will probably depend upon how much you can stomach the twee neo-noir quirkiness of director Hal Hartley, and most of all, how positively you might have responded to the first two films (Henry Fool and Fay Grim respectively) in this fairly tiresome trilogy.
The funniest and most engaging parts of the new picture occur in its opening 20-or-so minutes wherein we’re introduced to young Ned (played throughout the series by Liam Aiken) who hits his 18th birthday as a foster child in a witness protection program. You might remember from the dreadful Fay Grim that the title character, Ned’s Mom (Parker Posey), was in pursuit of hubby Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan) and became idiotically embroiled in some naughty terrorist activities. She’s now serving life in federal stir and her son’s foster family are batty evangelical Christians led by Rev. Gardner (Martin Donovan). Their kindness and religious fervour have paid off in spades since Ned’s become quite the devout follower of Jesus, but of course, with a twist.
Maintaining his devotion to Christ, but using Old Testament justification of the ‘eye for an eye’ kind, he’s convinced himself to embark upon an odyssey to track down his father and murder him. His reasoning is rooted in some perverse King James Version of restoring his Mom’s honour after it’s been sullied by the evil influence of Henry. Fair enough, I guess. Leaving behind the sun-dappled small-town America and the family who now love him (including a mouth-wateringly gorgeous foster sister), Henry tracks down his nutty ex-poet-laureate uncle Simon (James Urbaniak) to find Dad. Add to the mix a hot babe in the form of sexy academic Susan (Aubrey Plaza) who’s written her thesis on Simon, but who also (not too surprisingly) shares a connection to Henry.
Up to this point, things amble along in a pleasant enough fashion, but all along the way it’s impossible to remove Hartley’s tongue that’s burrowed far too deeply in his cheek. If anything, he manages to jam his tongue even deeper and it explodes through the flesh, allowing the film to careen off the rails into even more offensively twee territory. If you can hack the clipped (to a fault) deadpan deliveries of Hartley’s self-consciously clever dialogue and the constant, machine-tooled twists and turns of the silly plot, then I suppose you’ll be in for a rollickingly jolly ride.
The rest of us, though, can stay home. We’re the plebeian curmudgeons who have come to detest the American Indie genre force-feeding at the hands of Hartley, the poster boy for the predictable sameness of so much independent cinema spewed forth from the jolly maw of Uncle Sam.
Watch the trailer: