Last weekend saw the release of a movie centered around a scary demon who occasionally masquerades as a clown. That would be 9/11, starring erstwhile sitcom actor and incessant dicktweezer (and 9/11 truther!) Charlie Sheen.
Also, It came out.
Forgive the bad joke — I need them to get through writing about Martin Guigui’s 9/11. Seeing it was the most “fuck this movie!” I’ve felt since I watched A Dog’s Purpose. That one was a dog snuff film. 9/11 is, essentially, a 9/11 snuff film masquerading as a sensitive tribute to the human spirit or whatever the fuck.
It’s not. “Sensitive” or “a tribute to the human spirit” or anything. This movie made me supremely uncomfortable, and not just because of its bewildering insistence on using shakycam despite the fact that 70 percent of it takes place in an elevator.
WHY ARE YOU USING SHAKYCAM IN AN ELEVATOR???!?!?! There’s no room to shake! Stop that!
Stuck in this elevator are five people from diverse backgrounds meant to represent a cross-section of New York City. Charlie Sheen is workaholic tycoon Jeffrey, who’s gone to the North Tower of the WTC for a meeting that will finalize his divorce from wife Eve (Gina Gershon), whom he’s consistently neglected over the years. Luis Guzmán is affable janitor Eddie. Olga Fonda is Tina, whose put-together Young Professional appearance belies some serious anxiety issues; she’s on her way to break up with her boyfriend/sugar daddy when the attack happens. Wood Harris plays bike messenger Michael, whose daughter is celebrating her birthday that day, of course. 9/11 is chock full of “wink wink nudge nudge, isn’t it significant?” moments like this; early on in the film, a chipper security guard tells the soon-to-be-trapped quintet that there’s “not a cloud in the sky! Have a good day, everyone.”
The characters, like the dialogue, are ham-fisted. 9/11 is based on a play, and you can tell; aside from brief cutaways, the bulk of the action takes place either in the elevator or in the elevator command station, where elevator dispatcher Metzie (Whoopie Goldberg) is the group’s only connection to the outside world. As a result, the film is very talk-y, with proceedings crawling along at a snail’s pace as writers Guigui and Steven James Golebiowski attempt to tease out—with all the grace and subtlety of a crowbar-wielding serial killer—the nuance of this group of disparate individuals, who have no other choice but to bond as they await their probable deaths. Eddie has a gambling problem. Tycoon Jeffrey is made #relatable by the fact that he tells bad jokes, which is supposed to be… funny…? (To Michael: “Did you ever hear the one about the billionaire who hired the bike messenger?” “No.” “You just did.”) Michael, on the other hand, is a racist, angrily referring to the “Paki” cab driver who injured him in an accident and calling Eddie “Eduardo,” even though that’s not his name. (Do you get it? He’s a black guy, but he’s also racist! That can happen!!! It’s a very incisive point about… something. My God, this movie is so intellectual.)
The biggest “swing and a miss” moment in terms of the myriad attempts to pad the “you are there” horror of the September 11th attacks with social commentary comes when working-class Michael compares his situation to Jeffrey’s, calling out the latter’s status as a rich white man. Cue the defensive monologue from Eve, who berates Michael for dismissing Jeffrey’s accomplishments. How dare you! He was the son of a poor man who worked his way to the top! He hopped on a bus to NYC with only $60 in his pockets! Bootstraps! Bootstraps! Bootstraps! Michael, properly chastised, never again brings up Jeffrey’s white privilege… though that’s a good thing, really, as you get the sense that Guigui and company are in no way equipped to handle it as a topic. Instead, Eve’s impassioned defense of Jeffrey is used to help reconcile the estranged couple.
Adding to the list of things handled poorly in this movie—script, characters, camerawork—we have the acting! Which is really just embarrassingly bad. The whole thing amounts to a high school drama production, except worse, as if the football team was forced to write, produce and act in a 9/11 play while the theatre kids with legitimate talent stand facepalming in the wings.
With nothing much happening in this film—the plot is ostensibly our elevator group attempting to find a way out of the elevator into safety, but the action is so stretched thin and beset by stop-and-go pacing that it kills all sense of momentum—and no compelling characters to root for, what we’re left with is the uncomfortable reality of… just watching 9/11 happen in close to real time from inside the North Tower. There’s no point to it, unless the point is to make one vaguely sick to one’s stomach. Sheen’s character is the only one to die: the final shot is the building coming down on him and a firefighter before an abrupt cut to black, a look of beatific self-sacrifice on Sheen’s face that approaches (this movie’s conception of) the messianic. All the same, throughout the movie’s 90-minute runtime (it feels twice as long), we’re watching these five characters who are probably going to die. Or at least they think they will. It’s a supremely uncomfortable experience. At one point, talking about how the elevator cable may snap, plummeting them some 40-odd floors, Jeffrey “jokes”: “They say it’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop at the end.” People were jumping off buildings to avoid burning to death, you fucking assholes! And we see TV screen footage of the plane hitting the South Tower one… two… three times. 9/11’s attempt at unflinching realism is tone-deaf, exploitative, and disgusting at worst, and at best….
…no, it’s tone-deaf, exploitative, and disgusting. From the Charlie Sheen 9/11 movie. Who knew?