So Sahara came out last week (Correction: It comes out this week). I saw it a few weeks ago in my Leonard Maltin class. There’s nothing special about it; I wouldn’t pay to see it, but if you find yourself facing a screen on which it is playing, you ought to find the experience pleasurable. That is, if you’re not intent on proving how smart you are by pointing out how it’s stupid in all kinds of ways.
Is it stupid? Of course. How could it not be? One glance at the trailer confirms that (although the trailer makes it look worse than it is). Pointing out how it’s stupid is like pointing out that cars roll on wheels. If you can enjoy dumb, silly movies by laughing at the preposterous parts, realizing it’s not a bad thing to laugh at movies when they’re funny unintentionally, you’ll have a decent enough time. If you’re hung up on proving how clever you are, you’ll pick it apart by pointing out how Matthew McConaughey plays a cardboard cutout and the plot is strung together by lucky coincidences. But I’d rather watch a movie that knows it’s dumb than a movie that thinks it’s smart.
Case in point: dot the i, an independent film starring heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal in his first English-speaking role. The first half, maybe two-thirds of the movie is a love triangle story with a promising hook and maybe two moments that nearly work, or have the potential to work, surrounded by a bunch of boring crap. Occasionally, we get jarring cutaways to ugly digital video, hinting that something weird is amiss.
It’s one of those movies with a big twist, except it doesn’t matter because you didn’t give a shit about what was happening anyway. Even so, the movie reveals its twist with unearned satisfaction, explaining every last detail over the course of ten minutes or so, reveling in how clever it is. As if that isn’t enough, five or ten more twists follow, all to distance you even more from the increasingly pointless story. The more it twists, the less you care, because you know you’re being lied to yet again.
I’ll go ahead and spoil the twist, just because fuck you, dot the i:
First, the story: Bernal meets a girl at her pre-marriage “hen party” when she’s out with her girlfriends (whom we never see again) and kisses her as part of some tradition. But their kiss has passion and they fall in love. He pursues her but eventually she marries her rich fiancé anyway.
Bernal tries to stop the wedding but he’s too late, in a Graduate homage that would have been funny if dot the i didn’t spell it out for you in a previous scene, where a character tells him to do what Hoffman does in The Graduate, just to make sure you don't miss how clever the reference is about to be. It’s out of place anyway, since so far the film’s tone doesn’t suggest jokey parody. The rich fiancé turns into a dick, so the girl runs back to have sex with Bernal, and the weeping fiancé shoots himself, and not for a moment do we care.
But now, the twist: The fiancé is an even bigger dick than we thought--he hired Bernal to "act" in a “reality movie” in which they set up the entire situation and pranked this girl, taping the whole thing (hence the DV cutaways). And he’s not really dead, of course. But Bernal really was in love with her, and now he’s revealed as a deceiver, so he loses her.
Twist 2: Everyone has forgiven everyone else, and the finished film-within-the-film, obnoxiously also titled “dot the i,” wins a festival award. The rich prick gets shot by a vengeful Bernal on his way to accept it.
Twist 3: Bernal explains it was supposed to be a blank; the film’s other producers, a couple of film geek kids, suggested it as a publicity stunt.
Twist 4: The film geeks confirm that it was supposed to be a publicity stunt, but they can’t explain the second gun that was found on one of them. They’re sent to jail for the murder.
Twist 5: A flashback reveals that the girl was the one who shot the rich prick, then planted the gun on the film geek.
Twist 6: Bernal joins the girl as she leaves the police station--it wasn’t just her vengeance, they had planned the framing together.
Bernal and the girl go off to a big Hollywood event, since they’re both big stars from the huge hit movie dot the i.
This pretentious movie acts like it’s self-reflexive and clever, but has nothing to say besides a bunch of showoffy twists, and doesn’t even really deal with questions of reality and cinema for most of its running time, when instead it’s just fucking with you, playing out a love story that it knows is boring, just biding its time until the twist.
dot the i also officially doesn’t capitalize its title, so it’s a pain to write out in Word, which capitalizes the i for you. The title, by the way, comes from a line where the girl says that a kiss is how you dot the i in "love." But there's no i in love, Bernal points out for the illiterates in the audience. I guess it doesn't work in English, she replies. She's Spanish, so if someone can tell me what language it does work in, that would be nice. I'm willing to believe it does work in some language, I just don't know which one.
Anyway, the movie is unforgivably shitty, but it flatters people into thinking they’re watching a smart movie with its pointless twists. Critics and genuinely seasoned moviegoers see through it. But people who put down Sahara like they were expecting Citizen Kane watch dot the i and say “Wow, I didn’t see that coming,” and they think they’ve seen something clever.
In conclusion, Sahara is a better dumb adventure movie than dot the i is a smart independent movie.