Like plenty of people, I've been watching a lot of Louis C.K. lately. And I kept hearing the comic in my head as I watched Roman Polanski's squirmy, tone-deaf new movie, Carnage, which traps four good actors in empty moral slapstick. Jodie Foster, bug-eyed and twitchy, comes on like she's still stuck in Panic Room. Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz are all asexual glint and no payoff. John C. Reilly shouldn't wear sweaters. When, oh when, will Louis — maybe playing a neighbor — ring the doorbell and say, as only he can, "Would you stupid cunts shut the fuck up, already?"
Sadly, this never happens.
Yasmina Reza's money-and-manners comedy God of Carnage, the source of Polanski's film, is full of signifiers but is feather-light on significance. More than class, though, it lampoons its own form, trumping up a flimsy reason to assemble two married couples of varying loathsomeness and then resorting to liquor to prod further verbal brutality. Maybe something has been lost in translation during the play's journey from France to England (Christopher Hampton — remember Dangerous Liaisons? — first translated it for the British stage) to Broadway to screen. But in any language, one of Reza's quartet of characters — no, make that types — is required to vomit onto a stack of expensive art books. Ha? Take that, upper-middle-class assholes?
It's easy and not inaccurate to read Carnage as the latest in Polanski's career-long essay on exile, containment and isolation. (Maybe it's not an accident that all four characters here feel like foreigners. And they are, inasmuch as a set in France stands in for an absurdly smart-looking Brooklyn apartment.) But Repulsion this is not, and even 2010's overrated The Ghost Writer is gripping stuff compared with this hollow-bodied class snit. And despite a screenplay (Polanski and Reza are credited with the adaptation) that pares things to less than 90 minutes, including parking and buying a ticket, Carnage feels like the longest movie Polanski has ever made.
There are laughs here, but they neither provoke thought nor bring relief. What Reza and Polanski offer instead are hard shocks that sucker the sound of revulsion and mortification from your body. There's nothing wrong with chuckles that make you feel dirty, but Carnage is nothing more than one long joke about there being no side worth taking in any domestic or personal conflict. Ha? Take that? Shut the fuck up, already?