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I’m not ashamed to admit that I was pretty lost during the first 10-15 minutes of All Things to All Men, the feature debut from writer-director George Isaac. This isn’t the first time that I’ve felt lost during a film: watching Primer (2004) and TimeCrimes (2007) for the first time was like trying to build a nuclear reactor with Ikea instructions. I recall finishing Sauna (2008) and realizing that I’d “got” about half the film and let’s not even talk about Jodorowsky…I still don’t think I have any idea what Holy Mountain (1973) is actually about. This obviously wasn’t the first time I had been confused by a film and certainly won’t be the last time. It was, however, one of the few times that I can recall being confused by what should, on all accounts, have been a fairly standard cops vs robbers story. Was this some intricately plotted stumper, then, a multi-layered masterpiece of criss-crosses, double-crosses and sudden betrayals? Not so much, unfortunately: in reality, All Things to All Men is just a massively confusing, jumbled crime film that attempts to cloud its simple story with mindlessly kinetic actions, dreary locations and a never-ending procession of bland, similar characters.

Once the film finally settles down and begins to make a little sense, it breaks down a little something like this: Parker (Rufus Sewell) is a dirty cop and he’s jonesing to take down Joseph Corso (Gabriel Byrne), a local mobster with a junkie son (Pierre Mascolo) and about a million problems. Corso is practically a kinsman to Harold Shand, Bob Hoskins’ world-weary, can’t-buy-a-break loser from The Long Good Friday (1980): even as his professional world collapses around his ears, he’s still gotta put out the fires at home. Parker and his two partners, Dixon (Leo Gregory) and Sands (Terence Maynard), use Corso’s son to draw him into a highly confusing heist that involves the mysterious Riley (Toby Stephens). Riley is looking to avenge the death of his brother, Adrian (Gil Darnell), and he thinks Corso may have something to do with it. As all of these various characters collide and ricochet off each other, Dixon slowly begins to realize that Parker may just be a bigger threat to polite society than Corso could ever home to be. Parker’s superiors seem happy with his results (which are…?), however, and it’s “strongly implied” that Dixon should sit down and quit rocking the boat. What’s a dedicated cop to do, however, when everybody seems equally dirty and every exit seems to lead right back to the fun house?

As a crime-thriller, All Things to All Men is pretty standard, middle-of-the-road fare. The action scenes were shot a bit too kinetically for my tastes (ala The Bourne films) and everything was edited in the modern quick-cut, music video style that’s currently in fashion. There are a couple pretty great car chases, however, and the acting is consistently strong, if never extraordinary. As mentioned above, however, the film often collapses into much less than the sum of its parts. While the opening to All Things to All Men is a complete mess of poorly defined, muddy colors (all of the dark tones tend to blur together into one big ol’ blob) and confusing, quick-cut action involving largely anonymous characters, the rest of the film doesn’t look much better. If anything, the poor color correction and definition in the film makes it look extremely cheap, something borne out by the direct-to-video action sequences and standard-issue storyline.

It’s a pity, in a way, that there wasn’t more care taken with All Things to All Men: there are the bones of a pretty decent, modest crime caper here. Byrne does a good job as “The Merchant of the city,” who finds his world growing smaller by the minute and Stephens is just fine as Riley, our de facto protagonist. Julian Sands, the prolific genre actor who once made the Warlock prowl the earth, is good as Corso’s second-in-command, although I wish he got a little more screen time. I’ll admit that Leo Gregory didn’t do much for me as Dixon, the good cop trying to keep from becoming a bad cop: perhaps it was due to script issues but Dixon never felt like a fully fleshed character, more like the kind of archetype (the Serpico) that Issac’s felt his film needed.

All Things to All Men isn’t a terrible film but it is a hobbled film, prevented from becoming the decent B-thriller that it could’ve been by a combination of sloppy filmmaking and overly complicated plotting. With a tighter script and a better look, Isaac’s debut film would be a perfectly suitable way to kill part of a lazy afternoon. As it stands, however, there’s just not enough here to make this worth the time.

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