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Cut Bank 

At the Myrna Loy

(R)

Grade: C+

The Coen Brothers put the sleepy North Dakota town of “Fargo” on the Hollywood map. Tourists can now attend an exhibit called the “Woodchipper in Fargo” that pays tribute to the machine used to chop up a body in the dark comedy.

Stephenie Meyers’ “Twilight” stories did the same for Forks, Washington. Tourists can see the infamous red truck and other vampiric remnants.

Ironically, neither “Fargo” nor “Twilight” ever saw camera crews -- both films chose other locations to cut costs, a slight that annoyed both communities which would have welcomed the infusion of studio money.

The trend continues with “Cut Bank” a film about the Montana town that was shot in Edmonton and Innisfree, Alberta.

The film starts with a shot of the famous Cut Bank penguin, which proudly boasts that this little town of 3,000 on the Canadian border is “the coldest spot in the nation.”

How nice that the filmmakers at least came to town to shoot the penguin, right?

Freeze that idea: The penguin on the screen was actually a duplicate copy -- a replica -- say news reports from area papers.

What about the publicity photo featuring the stars standing in a Montana canola field? Sadly, those yellow blossoms bloomed north of the border, also.

Just for the record, the capital of Montana is mentioned once in an off-hand remark as “dirty, stressful, angry, lonely, corrupt and expensive." And this by a person who says he loves our town, nonetheless.

The filmmakers cite financial savings as the reasons they went to Alberta. They say they were given matching grants for bringing the production to Canada.

Nevertheless, the forgiving folk of Cut Bank happily hosted the local premiere of the movie in their local theater on April 10. The locals were proud to support a movie bearing the name of their town.

Meanwhile, Alberta also hosted premieres honoring their new “local” movie.

I’m sure I speak for my friends at the Montana Film Office in wishing that more movies set in Montana would be shot in Montana. If Montana was good enough to inspire a movie, one might think filmmakers would shoot the film here for a touch of Big Sky authenticity.

But alas, when money talks producers listen.

Setting aside grumbles about geography, “Cut Bank” ends up being a film best described as a faint echo of the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo.”

Clearly, “Cut Bank” was inspired by “Fargo” -- too much so, in fact.

“Cut Bank” spins a dark film noir tale intertwining romance and murder. The story begins with a murder that may not actually be a murder and evolves into a complex “thriller” that ends up feeling more like a horror film.

A creepy character named Derby reminded me of famous horror villains like Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers. The unshaven Derby has thick glasses that magnify his disturbing eyes.

But “Cut Bank” isn’t supposed to be a horror film - at least not “just” a horror film.

Rather “Cut Bank” was designed as mystery/thriller about a murder that may not be a murder followed by other murders that may indeed be murders. Got it?

Sorting out the clues is the town sheriff played by the always wonderful John Malkovich. Also exceptional are Bruce Dern, as the Peeping Tom mailman, and Billy Bob Thornton as the father of beauty pageant queen Cassandra.

Best of all may be Michael Stuhlbarg as deranged Derby.

But despite acting talent wider than the canola fields of Montana, “Cut Bank” feels remarkably bland. The whole is decidedly less than the sum of its parts.

Hampered by a derivative script, the two lead actors -- Liam Hemsworth and Teresa Palmer -- dissolve into stereotypes. She’s the blonde who wants to be a beauty queen and he’s the handsome hunk who wants to sweep her away to the big city.

A film that comes alive when the supporting cast arrives, but dies when the lead actors take over, has problems.

The script is primarily to blame.

The writing follows the “Fargo” prototype and adds gory moments, perhaps in honor of Quentin Tarantino. There are enough plot twists to make a pretzel jealous.

What’s missing is something to make us care about the bizarre goings on in Cut Bank, aka Innisfree, aka Edmonton.

Lots of bodies hit the floor in “Cut Bank,” but we shed not a single tear.

Thus we get a forgettable movie unlikely to do for Cut Bank, what the other films did for Fargo and Forks. That’s too bad, because the 3,000 residents of Cut Bank would welcome a little economic boost.

The production does, however, look and feel classy, a sign that this team of filmmakers may well strike gold soon. Much of the quality stems from the considerable talent of director Matt Shakman, a 39-year-old TV director whose credits include “Mad Men” and the FX series “Fargo.”

A closing note to director Shakman:

There are lots of great Montana-based books, Matt. Take some volumes with you to a Big Sky hideaway and ponder the possibilities. Authors Ivan Doig and James Welch come to mind.

After you pick your next project, Matt, give the Montana Film Office a call. They will most graciously help you shoot the project under the Big Sky.

And if you absolutely can’t resist Alberta, then how about you stop teasing us and just adapt a Canadian book, eh?

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