Erotic body painting, deadly scorpions, Italian futurism, a ninja stuntman, a Warholian MacGuffin, the singer Anastacia, not one organised-crime faction but four: incorporating all the above and more, this art world-set thriller told non-linear-style believes it’s a scrambled cubist masterpiece. But in truth it is closer to an abstract expressionist hot mess, as writer-director Alessio Della Valle splatters his canvas with everything he can lay his hands on and sees what sticks.
As if he’s force-feeding us the whole of Pulp Fiction in the first 15 minutes, Della Valle initially hops between three characters homing in on the botched exchange of a stolen print of Andy Warhol’s Pink Marilyn: a failed stuntman and would-be courier (Jeremy Piven), his high-class art dealer brother (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and a shoddy bagman (Fortunato Cerlino). But goons sent by Emile Hirsch’s junior mafia don – who wants his artwork back – seize the wrong package. The ensuing mayhem lets Della Valle erratically collage even more elements: Meyers’ dodgy counterfeiting past; his smoking-hot affair with a Spanish restorer (Paz Vega); Hirsch’s Michael Corleone-esque misgivings about the family trade and artistic aspirations (he likes firing his assault rifle at his easel); Michael Madsen, included for reasons indeterminate, with a voice like a dodgy motorbike throttle.
The plot is semi-incomprehensible, but the fragmented effect is not unpleasing. It isn’t capable, though, of carrying American Night’s intellectual pretensions, which are signposted in chapter titles such as “Art + Life”. What this gaudy rampage feels like is a commentary on the covetousness and inflationary madness of the art market itself. It’s telling that, beyond brash slogans and some gangster-film freeze frames, Della Valle’s film has no discernible style, with uncertain camerawork and attempts at Tarantino-esque black comedy – such as Cerlino’s narcoleptic bagman – getting lost in the chaos. Rhys-Meyers brings some substance, with his sophisticate’s gravelly tones suggesting despair behind the veneer. And even if American Night flirts constantly with ludicrousness, it is never boring.