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March 14, 2014

Excess Baggage

by Franz Patrick

Excess Baggage (1997)
★★ / ★★★★

In order to get the attention of her father (Jack Thompson) and appreciate her a little more, Emily (Alicia Silverstone) devises her own kidnapping. Once the ransom is delivered, she tapes her ankles and mouth, handcuffs her wrists, and jumps into the trunk of her car. Everything appears to be going according to plan. That is, until Vincent (Benicio Del Toro) breaks into the girl’s car and drives away with it.

“Excess Baggage,” directed by Marco Brambilla, is a light-hearted comedy sprinkled with enough action to jolt us out of quiescence. Silverstone is deliciously annoying, very appropriate given the bratty nature of her character. When Emily whines, I actually wished that she would swallow wrong which would have forced her to cough, drink water, anything—as long as she stopped talking.

The picture welcomes us to judge Emily based on her looks, the clothes she wears, the car she drives, and seeing what her family owns. I enjoyed that our perception of her is challenged as the film crosses into more a sensitive territory.

Del Toro does a wonderful job in playing a character who is essentially a punching bag. There is a patience and coolness in Vincent that makes me want to know more about him. I liked the fact that he is perfectly aware that his so-called occupation—hijacking cars and selling them for hundreds of thousands of dollars—hurt people, affluent or otherwise, and their pockets. Those eyes, during the silent moments, communicate a story about his past. It is unfortunate that we are not given more information about him. That is a big a problem.

After the bantering duo gets into all sorts of arguments, it appears as though the movie does not know which direction to go: there are cops who see Emily as a mere victim; Stick (Nicholas Turturro) and Gus (Michael Bowen), fellow henchmen of the unseen man with whom Vincent and Greg (Harry Connick Jr.) also work for, want a million dollars from Emily’s father; meanwhile Ray (Christopher Walken), Emily’s uncle and father figure, just wants to get his niece home in one piece.

While the screenplay is able to spend equal time with each strand, none of them creates genuine drama that forces the audience to become more involved. Once someone is hit on the head or in the stomach, it moves onto the next set-up that leads to another beating. Because of the predictable formula it constructs for itself, the story becomes redundant about halfway through and I could not help but wonder if it had ran out of ideas.

The material, however, gives us something new to chew on in the latter half in the form of an unlikely romance between Vincent and Emily. There is a danger to it because there are times when it is suggested that perhaps she is underage. This is another angle worth exploring but the script ultimately shies away from it. Del Toro and Silverstone’s chemistry is so undeniable, I was at a loss why the romance is given no depth.

The problem with “Excess Baggage,” based on the screenplay by Max D. Adams, Dick Clement, and Ian La Frenais, is found in the title. Instead of breezy and exciting, there are far too much fat—characters and subplots—that weigh the story down and very little meat to support its silly screwball skeleton.


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