**1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Yorgos Lanthimos
STARS Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz
Colin Farrell in The Lobster. (Photo: A24)
Lately, it seems to always come back to John Malkovich.
Art-house entries are expected to frequently provide the sorts of unique themes, uncompromising attitudes and go-for-broke sensibilities not generally found in multiplex fodder. But the commitment is as import as the conceptualization, which is why, for all their triumphs, current titles like A Bigger Splash and now The Lobster ultimately come up a tad short. They're a far cry from the likes of Being John Malkovich, which still ranks as one of the most ingenious and untainted movies of the modern era. Director Spike Jonze and scripter Charlie Kaufman created a work that remained blazingly original from first frame to last — if the picture were made today by other hands, the innovation would eventually give way to a predictable wrap-up which, say, revealed that it was all a dream.
The Lobster doesn't go that far — it actually gains back some of its mojo in time for a startling denouement — but the loopy beauty of the first half does eventually go MIA. It's set in a future world where everyone is expected to have a companion, and being alone is strictly verboten. All the lonely people are sent to a special hotel where they have 45 days to find a partner; if they don't, they will be turned into the animal of their choice. While most people predictably opt to be turned into a dog, David (Colin Farrell) decides he wants to become a lobster. But he has 45 days to avoid such a fate.
Writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (co-scripting with Efthymis Filippou) has come up with a brilliant hook for a film, and at least for the first hour, he follows through with a suitably bizarre yarn that offers not only unique narrative thrills but also serves as a commentary on the manner in which society favors and coddles couples while often giving short shrift to the single folks out there. But once David is forced to leave the hotel and hide out in the woods, the film loses its flavor. David hooks up with a rebel outfit made up of people who embrace their single status, but this section is rote and repetitive — strip away the surprisingly few idiosyncrasies in these segments and we might as well be watching a World War II tale in which Jewish or French resistance fighters are hiding out from the Nazis (indeed, I was reminded of 2008's Defiance, a WWII film with Daniel Craig, the husband of The Lobster co-star Rachel Weisz).
The flatness dominating the second half is averted during the final moments, and that's appreciated. Still, the defining sensation is that of watching your favorite football team run up the score on an inferior opponent and then letting it slip away during the second half, requiring a field goal in the closing seconds to escape with the victory. It's one for the win column, but it never should have gotten so close.