For a while, “I Care a Lot” has some grim fun with fearsome adversaries played by Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage trying to get what, and who, they want: Dianne Wiest, as the latest victim of a senior-care facility scheme. But it’s a limited, dead-end sort of diversion, coasting on a vibe of pervasive cynicism, plus generalities about predatory American greed. We’re all out for ourselves. We’re sharks and lionesses and heartless, grabby, unscrupulous weasels. Actors love playing weasels. They’re so much juicier than honest people.
The chief weasel in this Netflix film goes by Marla Grayson (Pike), a stiletto-heeled wonder attached to the severest possible hair imaginable. Marla makes a swell living as a court-appointed legal guardian of older citizens relocated, against their wishes, from their homes into senior-care centers. Everyone’s on the take: the consulting physician, the senior-care center manager and Marla herself, along with her assistant and lover (Eiza González).
“I Care a Lot” wants to entice and alarm in equal measure. In the early scenes, Marla’s latest target, an apparently helpless but entirely lucid loner played by Wiest, loses her home, her rights and her old life. Writer-director J Blakeson’s picture takes it from there. Wiest’s character has squirreled away millions in diamonds in a safe deposit box, which Marla locates. But the mark turns out to have a connection to an Americanized affiliate of the Russian mob.
This is Dinklage’s role. He and Pike trade threatening smiles, entertainingly. There are other fine actors, including Chris Messina as the mobster’s white-suited lawyer. Director Blakeson favors a smooth rhythm, and juggles our sympathies (or lack thereof) proficiently enough.
[WATCH: ‘I Care a Lot trailer. Warning: Contains profanity.3/8
I confess, though, to having developed a substantial resistance to this sort of flip, sardonic fable, especially when couched in half-digested discussions about the American dream and predatory capitalism. Films as different from each other as “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “I, Tonya,” “The Big Short” and now “I Care a Lot” seem to be onto something — the bad behavior is a pretty good time, and they’re a little bit serious about the implications of living a life free from ethics and morals and pesky legalities. But they’re thin, and two-faced.
Marla is pure drive: She pours herself into her treadmill workouts with the same intensity she brings to her vaping, all the better to give her a cloud of smoke for an entrance. (She’s a human dragon on the prowl.) Pike, who’s nominated for a Golden Globe for the role, gives her different shadings of maliciousness. The acting’s uniformly strong, and the script is distressingly weak.
‘I Care a Lot’ — 2 stars
MPAA rating: R (language throughout and some violence)
Running time: 1:59
Where to watch: Some theaters and on Netflix.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.
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