Published Feb 01, 2000If you're told the protagonist of a film is a serial killer, certain expectations arise: guns, glorification of violence, romanticised outlaws, and nail-biting tension. The Minus Man doesn't fall into any of those traps, and the fact that the central character is so normal is what makes the film much more unsettling than its peers. Owen Wilson (Bottle Rocket) plays Vann, a serene and polite drifter who happens to have a nihilist mean streak that leaves a few passing acquaintances dead. The viewer isn't fully let in on this disturbing character trait until about halfway through the film, when his nonchalant voice-over and surfer-dude demeanour begins to sound more creepy than funny. Hampton Fancher, a 61-year-old screenwriter (Blade Runner) making his directorial debut, borrows pages from David Lynch's manual to achieve this effect, placing the vacant Vann in a quiet town with a few secrets. Once the point of the film is made - that the California blond, Eddie Haskell-esque narrator whom everyone loves has a dark side - there isn't anywhere else for the film to go. We learn a bit about the secrets held by the couple (Brian Cox, Mercedes Ruehl) who rent him a room. His unusual relationship with his smitten co-worker, played by the ubiquitous yet consistently under-utilised Janeane Garofalo - thankfully cast against type here - becomes more disturbing than his homicides, simply because the emotional consequences seem much more real than his random victims. Neither Vann himself nor the supporting characters undergo any change or development by the end of the film, which strands the viewer feeling vacant and hollow. By the time the credits roll, The Minus Man's many strengths -uniformly excellent cast (which also includes Dwight Yoakam and a surprising Sheryl Crow), clever narrative tricks and direction - leave a definite impression, but not a satisfying one.