Sanctimony is the English-language introduction to the filmography of Dr. Uwe Boll and the very last movie I had yet to see for my first edition of my expansive column. Boll wrote and directed the movie about a clever serial killer that’s baffled law enforcement. It’s interesting coming into Sanctimony with all the Uwe Boll homework in the back of my head. I know what flaws I’m looking for, I pay attention to the retched line delivery from the actors, and I genuinely know what I’m getting into. It’s seems that Boll works somewhat in a bubble; almost all of his technical crew is the same from film to film, and Michael Paré, Jurgen Prochnow, Clint Howard, and Patrick Muldoon seem to be the stable Uwe Boll Players. Sanctimony is where it all began and where everything went so horribly awry for moviegoing audiences.
A killer is loose and terrorizing Seattle, cutting out the eyes, ears, and tongues of his victims. The media has dubbed him the “Monkey Maker killer” (think “speak no evil, hear no evil, etc.”). Detective Renart (Paré) and his partner Dorothy Smith (Jennifer Rubin) are assigned the case. After some investigation of a stabbed homeless girl, their initial suspect seems to be Tom (Casper Van Dien), a wealthy and cynical stockbroker. His lawyer balks at any charges and Tom goes free. Coincidentally, more bodies start piling up haphazardly. As Renart puts more pressure on Tom, he starts targeting those close to him, like his pregnant wife (Catherine Oxenberg, who seduced Van Dien in 1999’s The Omega Code). Tom has some master plan ready to shock the world, and only the dogged persistence of Renart can stop his wicked ways.
Sanctimony is really a crossbreeding of what Boll liked best about Seven and American Psycho. Like David Fincher’s masterpiece, Boll really wants his serial killer to be slicing and dicing with a message; this killer gets his kicks from cutting out different body parts. Tom eventually goes after his pursuer’s pregnant wife, just like Seven, and clumsily aims for some kind of myopic preaching. Tom sure does like to spit out a diatribe about the plague of humanity, even after he’s just dismembered a call girl. Boll seems very intent on crafting Tom into a Patrick Bateman-esque character, one whose soul has been lost to the bottom line of the business world (how many hotshot stockbrokers are based in Seattle?). But while American Psycho was complex, satirical, and deeply metaphorical, Sanctimony is stupid. Boll wants Tom’s speeches to have terrifying power to them, but instead they come across as theatrical and lifeless. Tom says, “Raping and pillaging have been the official government policy of any government that’s ever thrived.” If you’re impressed by this assertion, Sanctimony might just be the movie for you. If you yawn at this sub-standard Political Science 101 ejaculation, then you’re likely beyond the film’s short-armed reach. Boll’s writing has a vague inauthentic feel, like he learned everything about crime procedural from TV. In the year 2000, a character actually summarizes America with the words, “apple pie and baseball.” By now I think the only people that characterize America that way are conservative politicians and out-of-touch, disdainful foreigners.
Boll’s serial killer thriller plays all the genre clichés. First, naturally, there’s the clever serial killer who must torment his persecutors as a game. Then there’s the umpteenth example of a cop haunted by the lives he can’t save and his stalwart dedication to the case straining his marriage. When will these wives ever understand? Renart and Dorothy naturally get thrown off their case, thus finally allowing them to solve it as in every cops-and-robbers movie. Maybe movies should just begin with the cop thrown off their case; it would save everyone a hell of a lot of time as far as casework. Partners must always die to spurn our hero into action, though I’d have to assume Dorothy’s too young to be days away from a blissful retirement. Killing her seems ill advised too, especially since her last known whereabouts would be a dinner date with Tom. Way to be the number one suspect and give yourself borrowed time, dude.
I hate to admit it, but despite all its glaring simplicity and predictable bumps in the road, Sanctimony is passably entertaining, that is, until the ridiculous ending draws near. As with most serial killer films, the killer is practically a super being with an agenda. Except, in Sanctimony, Boll doesn’t even give his vengeful hand of God an agenda but just an inescapable rage. The film climaxes with Tom going on a shooting spree at his wedding party and then being gunned down by Renart. Boll uses lots of slow-mo and swelling dramatic music, but the scene had no set-up from earlier and makes little to no sense. What was his master plan? Was Tom trying to outlive his looming terminal illness and create a name that will long live on, likened to the horror he has wrought? He said he couldn’t stand the curse of people, so was his plan to just take out as many people as possible? If so, surely leaving the cops obvious tell-tale signs was not helpful, especially if he was just going to out himself on live TV as a murderer anyway. Sanctimony ends with far too many loose ends and unexplained motives that, in hindsight, seem to suggest Boll’s clever serial killer wasn’t so clever after all.
Since the heroes of Sanctimony are so rote and familiar, the only place for Boll to make artistic strides is in his depiction of his killer, Tom. This is where Sanctimony and Boll really drop the ball. Before we know anything about him, Boll has already introduced us to Tom’s office, which should more accurately be described as a lair. It’s gigantic, poorly lit, and surrounded by ominous rock faces. He even has an array of monitors at his super desk of villainy. The only thing missing is a desk full of files labeled, “Plan, Evil.” We never really understand what Tom’s motivations are, though Boll thinks he’s helping by lining up speeches about Tom’s views on people (hint: it’s not optimistic). Even his choices of murder have no lasting message; Tom just kills whoever is weak and available. If he’s an ordinary killer then what’s the point of even basing a flick around him?
Sanctimony presents a lot of Tom’s ire but never digs any deeper. He attends a laughable S&M club where they make snuff films in the back for your viewing pleasure. The leader of this demented boys club wants to harness male fury as motivation, for what I don’t know. So what does Tom do next? He goes home and chokes and attempts to rape his fiancé, clearly indicating that this unique support group is not working. She rejects him, so Tom walks the empty Seattle streets (!) with his knife openly drawn and stabs a homeless girl. Was he frustrated over his failed rape attempt? Is he reacting against a woman asserting power over him? We’ll never know, because Sanctimony is only interested in skirting the waters of characterization. In Boll’s movie, people fall into types and aren’t given anything else to work with. Tom is the killer. He kills. That’s all you’re going to get. Even though the movie is only 87 minutes long, Boll is disinterested in spending time with his characters. He’s rather just draw up a sketch from someone else’s work and move along.
The acting is somewhat better than most Boll movies and yet still a degree below typical straight-to-video blandness. Van Dein (Starship Troopers) is amusingly believable as a stone-faced serial killer. His limited acting range actually strengthens the character’s sense of frustration. He’s got a menacing stare to boot. Paré (Hope Floats) phones in his performance but gets some points for being in the film’s most weirdly awkward moment, when Renart has to step in as nude model for his wife and her giggly photographer peers. Bizarre doesn’t go far enough in describing the scene. Rubin (Little Witches, Amazons and Gladiators) is the hard-nosed female cop trying to make it in a man’s world, and gives a decent if unmemorable performance. I was more intrigued by her ever-present striped scarf, which seems to follow her everywhere from the shooting range to inside her home. Roberts has very little screen time and is still third billed.
Sanctimony is Uwe Boll’s stab at the serial killer genre, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s formulaic and bereft of suspense and imagination. This is a generic rip-off of far better serial killer flicks. The characters are all brief sketches and genre clichés, and Boll can’t even come up with a compelling agenda for his killer. I kept waiting for Sanctimony to fully explain itself, but once the wedding shoot-out is complete the film leaves you addled and perturbed. Boll has castrated his drama, rendering it unimportant, lazy, and sloppy. Boll may have several ideas floating around his head but he never brings them in for a clarification. Whatever intellectual goals he may have intended for Sanctimony will be lost on an audience grasping for meaning and entertainment. How dumb is this movie? Well, it defines what “sanctimony” means in the opening credits via dictionary. It should be very ominous when a movie is forced to define its own title. Ominous, indeed.
Nate’s Grade: C-