Michael Shannon and Amy Ryan in "The Missing Person," an aimless noir film with art house intentions. (Strand Releasing)
Caught somewhere between Humphrey Bogart and David Lynch, "The Missing Person," playing at the Burton Theatre in Detroit this weekend, ends up more art-house dither than actual mystery.
The real mystery here is how writer-director Noah Buschel talked recent supporting Oscar nominees Michael Shannon and Amy Ryan into doing this movie. OK, for Shannon it's a shot at a lead, albeit a fuzzy one. But Amy Ryan, what are you doing in this movie?
Working, obviously, but don't let the names fool you. "The Missing Person" is one of those films that tries to be both inside and above itself, and thus it ends up nowhere. It's not really a dark mystery, and it's not really a comment on dark mysteries. It's just unintentionally silly without being fun.
Shannon plays a mumbling drunk of a private detective named John Rosow. He's hired by a lawyer he doesn't know to follow a man on a train from Chicago to LA. His expense money is delivered by the lawyer's secretary (Ryan, who's really hardly in the film).
And off we go, with Rosow drinking and smoking cigarettes, talking obscurely to just about everyone, doling out wisecracks that aren't funny and uncovering the (sort of) truth behind the man (Frank Wood), he's following.
At one point Rosow gets knocked down by a bunch of guys with guns at a Mexican orphanage. Does he ever wonder why workers at an orphanage would carry guns? Of course not.
In the hands of a master artist like Lynch, broken situations, half-spoken sentences and nonsense can be transformed into emotional revelation; in Buschel's hands "The Missing Person" is just bad new-century noir.