Dirty Mind opens with a simple conceit of our reality – that the most complex of human experience can be traced back to simple chemical brain functions. It’s a fascinating concept, especially for film, but it’s also scary territory when trying to lay the groundwork for a narrative that’s meant to be meaningful and matter. But it’s an anchor the film gladly wears even as it piles on the dramatic weight. It never quite reaches where it’s going, but it’s achieved something in at least trying.
The lowest on the totem pole, Diego (Wim Helsen), is laughed at on the job working with his confident, stunt man older brother Cisse (Robbie Cleiren). He’s shy, struggles with a need for love he can’t fulfill, and is generally walked upon by everyone until an accident sees him waking up in the hospital as Tony T – a brand new personality that comes complete with cockiness and catch-phrases. He becomes everything he’s wanted and finds a new conquest in the pretty researcher Jaana (Kristine Van Pellicom) who’s in charge of monitoring his change for a brain study.
This interpersonal drama is mostly a character study of the unchecked id of a macho-man with hints of the stock story about being careful what you wish for. Wim Helsen pulls double duty effectively as both a languishing wallflower and the life of the party, showing both to have more depth than they probably should. Granted, Tony T is more fleshed out because he has more screen time and proves to be a confused, scared man hiding behind empty bravado and a growing need for more danger. And how can you deny someone who spouts, “We’re more reliable than Mac, and we crash like Windows” when unapologetically selling his Stunt Team?
Still, Diego is flat as a walking pity-magnet, but ultimately more sympathetic because of it.
The personality pendulum swing is accompanied by some strange, flawed characters around him. Jaana starts off loathing Tony T because he’s a chauvinist with questionable interest in her, but, for some reason, becomes enthralled by his man-act to the point of near-obsession. Diego’s brother Cisse gains a new, cooler brother that essentially mirrors his own persona until Tony T gets out of hand and starts stealing thunder. Ultimately, Cisse becomes the best character of the entire film. Or at least the one closest to genuine.
The directing is passable with good performances and camera angles that edge toward interesting. Nothing groundbreaking, but there are a few standouts including a scene where Jaana and Tony T finally begin to connect while sitting pic-nic style on a small hill. Otherwise, it’s all pretty par for the course.
The film suffers greatly though for one major reason: it’s far too long. I’ve searched for a run-time to no avail, but the flick feels like 3 hours. Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily a matter of wasted scenes. It’s a matter of how slowly he progresses from becoming Tony T to going out of control. There’s a systematic destruction of relationships, sure, but it all starts to feel much, much too heavy. The entire second act is layer upon layer of new segments showing Tony T doing a new stunt, taking people out to a party, wooing Jaana each time with a millimeter of distance gained by the characters. Just when there seems to be some momentum, Dirty Mind crawls.
To its detriment, it’s enough to drag the film all the way down. There are some good ideas rumbling around here about people, especially very troubled people searching for a version of love or acceptance just out of their grasp, but in some ways those worlds just aren’t explore enough while the slow saga of Tony T and his newest, slight bit of character growth.
The Upside: Some great drama aided by strong performances.
The Downside: Snail’s pacing that turns something interesting into something excruciating.
On the Side: Wim Helsen was a comedian before turning to the world of acting.