Country Crock

Washington City Paper | May 4, 2006
Old vs. new. Country vs. city. Red vs. blue. These could have been the conflicts that get played out in Crazy Like a Fox. But writer-director Richard Squires seems to prefer that his debut be viewed simply as a story of good vs. evil. And not just any old evil, either—this is moustache-twirling, anvil-dropping, tie-the-girl-to-the-railroad-tracks evil. But then, a lot of things in Crazy Like a Fox are cartoonish.

“My fathah was a great readah,” landowner Nat Banks (Roger Rees) intones in the film’s opening voice-over, telling of how he and his siblings used to act out the dramas their dad loved among the old man’s cherry trees, “a backdrop of indescribable beauty.” As Squires’ camera pans over a verdant estate, Banks goes on about his “noble family” and the eight generations that have occupied the Virginia farm named Greenwood. Cut to the present, in which Nat’s wife, Amy (Mary McDonnell), is insisting that they sell the now money-sucking property, and things go from purple to crazy—at least for a bit, before they go back again.

Amy puts Greenwood up for sale, and soon a ridiculous couple from D.C. show up to look down their noses at it. Will Sherman (Paul Fitzgerald), a lawyer, openly tells an already-petulant Nat that the house—a colonnaded beauty—easily needs $1 million of work to be “savable,” while Will’s wife, Ellie (Christina Rouner), a real-estate broker, scoffs at everything she sees and snaps, “I could have died!” when she slips in some pig slop. Nat, clearly the stubborn-throwback sort, isn’t exactly polite to them, either. But despite their “big city” attitudes, the Shermans (get it?) not only meet the Bankses’ $2 million asking price but also immediately throw in $40,000 for the family furniture with the understanding that Nat will allow the closing to go smoothly. Will also promises Nat that he won’t tear down the house, sealing the deal with a handshake.

Squires’ message that these days neither a man’s word—Will immediately proposes development—nor history is sacred will resonate with anyone who’s ever seen a neighborhood landmark get turned into condos or a parking lot. Or at least it will with any viewer who can see past the director’s rather confused and often exaggerated presentation, especially after Nat becomes, as his wife puts it, “a nutcase in a uniform.” Dressing up like a Confederate general, he chooses to live in a cave by the creek instead of in his family’s new home.

Rees’ performance is partly to blame. His particular spin on crazy includes screaming “Monticello!” and then bouncing off the walls like a drunk as Nat goes to get his uniform. This occurs after Amy has deliberately broken some Banks family artifact in a metaphorical attempt to slap her husband into his new reality—though, confusingly, she later accepts his new digs, bringing their two children for a visit and even engaging in a spelunkular snuggle. Squires’ direction can be a problem, too, such as when Nat goes completely batshit to the accompaniment of jaunty, isn’t-this-fun music.

Worst of all, however, is the filmmaker’s portrayal of the Shermans and their friends, which has them openly laughing at their “dadgum” neighbors. They’re such jerks, in fact, that Will goes into a “What the hell is going on here?” rage when a waitress at a local bar tells him the place doesn’t serve champagne and is out of bourbon. Funny thing is, after Will and Ellie’s 100th use of the word “hick,” Crazy Like a Fox settles into, well, not reality, exactly, but a pleasant enough version of it.

It’s feel-good stuff, for sure, with the community banding together and the baddies getting what they deserve and the rest of it. If the film doesn’t really earn that ending, it’s almost appropriate: Underneath all the hysterics and hyperbole, this is a story about the ineffable bond we can feel to a particular place. The many shots of rolling farmland and sparkling water probably won’t make you care about old Virginia as much as Squires does, but they might make you forget dialogue like this: “So did we just get exterminated?” “I think we did. Strangely, though, I don’t feel dead.”

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