Clearly a quiet and lonely man, Don McKay (Thomas Haden Church) sluggishly scrubs the paint off a high school art class’s floor, with a loser shrug affixed to his face. He’s employed in janitorial services, and this being a not-too-stirring existence, he jumps at the chance to go back to his hometown after receiving a letter from a cancer-stricken first love, Sonny (Elisabeth Shue), who beckons his return. Upon arriving at her childhood home, Don is greeted by a suspiciously tidy, anal-retentive maid, Marie (Melissa Leo), who has been Sonny’s caretaker since the cancer spread. When Don finally sees Sonny, still marvelously angelic, his eyes widen in glee as fond memories are recalled, but Don McKay is no glorious reunion story, as this town and girl he once knew belie a much deeper, far-reaching truth than the artificial welcoming party may let on.
Writer-director Jake Goldberger has lassoed a great cast to ham it up in this comical homage to Billy Wilder’s classic noirs Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. Church imbues his steamrolled schlub, so visibly defeated by past tragedy, with everyman wisdom, and he and Shue display great chemistry: As her femme-fatale acrobatics dance all over Church in the culminating scene that reveals her character’s true nature, there’s a slight glimpse at what could have been if this charade continued—that is, if she hadn’t threatened to kill him. In a welcomed return to leading-role status, Shue exhibits devilish camp as a sickly gimp Sonny, and then switching to manipulative temptress when the tables are turned, while Leo gives another golden, meticulous performance as the double-dealer Marie, even if a noticeable departure from her Oscar-nominated, more serious work in Frozen River. The world Goldberger creates can be contrived at times, but it’s also frenetically enthralling, and as such the few mangled twists are easily overlooked. And though it may wear its references on its sleeves, as sheer, thrilling entertainment, Don McKay deceives like the best of them.