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A Survivor's Guide to Watching The American

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I'm no girly girl when it comes to movies. I like action -- Broken Arrow still ranks as one of my all-time favorite movies -- and nothing saves a rainy day like Austin Powers. So I went with great expectations to see George Clooney in The American. I love seeing Mr. Clooney, shirtless and spaniel-eyed, acting his heart out with those minimalist jaw twitches that pass for deep angst. Having just gobbled down The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I was eager to view Clooney tromping around a snowy Swedish landscape. I was also looking forward to the Italian setting without having to suffer through Julia Roberts eating her heart out in Eat, Pray, Love to reach a size 6 on a fat day.

However, I'm sorry to report that I drifted into sleep mode halfway through The American. I had to let my mind roam to get my money's worth and make it to the end. Here are some of the questions that kept me awake that night:

  • Why do Swedish assassins look like Saturday Night Live comics?

  • Where did all of the people in that cute Italian hilltop town go while Clooney endlessly wandered their curvy stone streets?

  • Is it really a rule that hookers don't kiss their clients on the mouth? Also, if a John gives a hooker oral sex, as Clooney's character Jack apparently does with the prostitute Clara (Violante Placido), is the hooker then so grateful that she kisses him anyway? Most women I know would rather kiss on the mouth before oral sex.

  • In the scene where they swim by the river, was Clara's thong arranged deliberately to ride up one beautiful butt cheek? Or does she have the same problem with thongs that most women do, which is why we're always backing into corners to pluck them free?

  • Just how did Jack make that gun out of car parts? There are endless scenes of him machining parts that could rival CSI: Miami's porno lab sequences, but there are some steps missing here. Like, a hundred. It looked to me like he bought a perfectly serviceable gun to begin with. And is it really that profitable to handcraft a gun and sell it on the black market?

  • Do they sell that wash-and-wear color that lets ace sniper Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) change her hair color every day? There could be a big profit in that. Maybe more than in guns.

  • Obviously, director Anton Corbijn is paying homage to the Spaghetti Western here -- a movie typically made by Italians, starring Italian actors and one American, as in Clint Eastwood movies. There's even a meta movie moment here, where a Spaghetti Western is playing on the little TV in the bar where Clooney takes his lonely self every night. But why remake them at all?

  • Couldn't Corbijn have come up with a friskier music score? The relentless drilling of the dirge-like background music here made my teeth ache.
Clooney is cast as a sensitive, regretful assassin. You know, good at his job, but guilty about his sins, yadda yadda. In case we don't get that on our own, we have the wise priest in this movie (Paolo Bonacelli, who has the world's most photogenic face) tell us this in a series of cliches. If we're still too thick to understand that Jack is a real human, not a cartoon, he has a butterfly tattoo and reads butterfly books! He even knows which species are endangered! And -- SPOILER ALERT -- in his final tragic scene, as the hooker with the heart of gold and the pink thong gets Jack's gobs of cash, we get to see one of those little endangered fellas fly away. What are we to conclude from this? That movies like this are endangered?

Maybe there's a happy ending to The American after all.