Movie Review: “The Voices”

Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver, Ella Smith
Marjane Satrapi

Ryan Reynolds has starred in some pretty big movies over the last five years, and while they’ve helped cement his place on the Hollywood A-list, many of them (“Green Lantern,” “R.I.P.D.”) have done more harm than good for his career. The actor has had really bad luck when it comes to blockbuster filmmaking, but he’s proven that he can carry a movie on his own, particularly when there aren’t hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. In fact, he’s done some of his best work in smaller independent films like “Buried” and “Adventureland,” and that trend continues with “The Voices,” a flawed but amusing dark comedy that plays like a delightfully strange mix between “Doctor Dolittle” and “American Psycho.”

Jerry Hickfang (Reynolds) just wants to fit in. A socially awkward but overall nice guy who works at the Milton Bathtub Factory in the small town of the same name, Jerry is trying to lead a normal life in the wake of a family tragedy with the help of his psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver). When he’s asked to help plan his company’s annual picnic alongside bubbly British import Fiona (Gemma Arterton), Jerry builds up the nerve to ask her on a date. But Fiona stands him up in order to go out with some work friends, and when their paths cross later that night, he inadvertently murders her in the middle of the woods. At least, he thinks it’s an accident, but Jerry hasn’t been taking his meds lately, which is why he’s starting to hear voices – namely his loyal dog Bosco, who speaks in a Southern drawl, and his sociopathic cat Mr. Whiskers, who speaks in a Scottish brogue (both voiced by Reynolds) – urging him to kill again.

Jerry’s pets function like his very own shoulder angel and devil, and it’s his interactions with them (as well as Fiona’s reanimated severed head, which he keeps stored in his refrigerator) that make for some of the movie’s best scenes. But the talking animals are just the tip of the iceberg, because unmedicated Jerry exists in a Technicolor fantasy where everything is better than real life. Fiona takes the form of an angel, butterflies flutter around his head, and his apartment above a rundown bowling alley looks like a quaint bachelor pad when it’s actually a filthy, blood-soaked disaster zone littered with garbage bags, pizza boxes and food containers filled with the chopped-up remains of his victims. Director Marjane Satrapi (“Persepolis”) flips back and forth between reality and Jerry’s fantasy world to drive home the severity of his mental illness, depicting him more as a damaged, sympathetically naïve man-child than a full-fledged psycho killer.

A pair of flashback sequences designed to address Jerry’s troubled childhood threaten to derail the film midway through – a combination of bad acting and writing that highlights some of the tonal inconsistencies in the script – but thankfully, the remainder of the movie rests firmly on Reynolds’ shoulders, who channels Norman Bates as the sweet but creepy schizophrenic. The actor has relied on his usual sarcastic shtick for many of his roles, so it’s nice to see him deliver a slightly different, more nuanced performance that puts his deadpan comic delivery to pitch-perfect use. Though the film straddles a fine line due to its off-kilter tone, Reynolds and the supporting cast (which also includes Anna Kendrick as another co-worker turned victim) do just enough to make “The Voices” an enjoyably weird genre flick with an unexpected dash of humanity.