Thursday, June 4, 2020

Come to Daddy Doesn't Quite Fulfill Its Potential

Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) hasn't seen his father in a while. In fact, he hasn't seen him since his dad abandoned Norval and his mom early on in Norval's childhood. That decades of distance has come to a close now that Norval has been invited up to his dad's beachside house. Now reunited, Norval and his dad Brian (Stephen McHattie) aren't hitting it off perfectly. Brian is a tough-as-nails kind of guy who is always pushing Norval's buttons. Meanwhile, Norval just can't seem to find any way to please this dad he never knew. There's already plenty of conflicts arising from this father/son reunion before strange revelations come to light on who Norval's dad really is and what Brian has been up to all these years.

The basic ingredients of Come to Daddy are all stuff I generally like. I love Elijah Wood and his devotion to auteur-driven genre projects. I love slow-burn thrillers with tiny casts. I love a good suspense title. But Come to Daddy just never quite clicked for me. It's a movie that always seems to be poised to take that fateful leap into being something greater, either a movie with more depth, more nasty fun, or more suspense. Instead, Toby Harvard's screenplay is content to approach its story in a surface-level manner. By the end, Come to Daddy reveals that it doesn't have much to say about Norval and Brian's relationship.

Come to Daddy is a movie structured like it's supposed to be all about the inevitable pay-off only the pay-off never comes. It's all build-up, no punchline. It's easy to see how that structure could have been used to reflect how complex tormented parent/child relationships can be. We don't always get tidy resolutions to those kinds of dynamics. Why, then, should a film about that topic offer a satisfying pay-off? Unfortunately, the two characters at the center of Come to Daddy's own tormented parent/child relationship aren't fleshed-out enough to make that kind of approach work. If you're gonna go the open-ended intentionally unresolved route, it needs to fit the characters and story.

In the case of Come to Daddy, its own characters and story just aren't developed enough to sustain that type of storytelling. Plus, there isn't enough enjoyable grisliness to compensate for the lack of depth. If Come to Daddy couldn't quite nail it as a drama, it could at least function as a solid thriller. A climactic showdown between Norval and a British assassin has its moments of engaging suspense and I enjoyed how much brutality Norval suffers at the hands of enemies here. Watching Norval, a character with little experience in combat, find himself overwhelmed at every turn proves not only darkly humorous but also frequently suspenseful.

Unfortunately, even this scene goes on too long while the rest of the sparse fight scenes aren't particularly noteworthy. If the filming during Norval's first big fight scene is any indication director Ant Thompson is more comfortable filming terse exchanges between Norval and Brian than he is with elaborate hand-to-hand scuffles. Meanwhile, Thomspon and cinematographer Daniel Katz fail to lend Come to Daddy much of a unique visual look save for flashes of purple employed in scenes set in an underground location. For the most part, Come to Daddy's color palette and camerawork aren't all that distinctive.

That having been said, they're also not bad and that's the frustrating part with Come to Daddy. It's not an abysmal movie at all but it is a frustratingly empty movie. Its best features, like a Elijah Wood's well-realized lead performance, are at the mercy of a script that feels only half-finished. Further rewrites needed to inject Come to Daddy's story with more personality, more suspense, more substantive explorations of parent/child relationships. Those same qualities needed to also be implemented into the competent but unambitious direction. Despite having so many elements I routinely adore, Come to Daddy comes up short on its potential and isn't good enough to stop you from wondering how it could be much better.

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