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'The Counselor' full of ill-advised missteps

| Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

There are many signs that “The Counselor” is a ridiculous movie: the pseudo-intellectual philosophy spouted by various characters, including the leader of a Mexican drug cartel; Javier Bardem's fright-wig hair; Cameron Diaz's evil eyeliner. But my favorites are the cheetahs.

Diaz plays a predatory blonde named Malkina who has two cheetahs for pets. She decks them out in fancy collars and loves to watch them chase down and shred jackrabbits in the high desert of El Paso. Her admiring, if somewhat clownish, lover (Bardem) makes drinks and looks on in bemusement.

“The Counselor” comes with expectations: It's directed by Ridley Scott, with an impressive cast, which also includes Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz and Brad Pitt. Novelist Cormac McCarthy wrote the screenplay. If you've ever read his novels — “The Road,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Blood Meridian” — or even seen the films adapted from some of them, then you know to expect blood, violence, greed, nihilism and horrific deaths. What you don't expect is camp. “The Counselor” is more “Wild Things” than “No Country for Old Men,” with which it shares a border-town setting. “The Counselor” treats its material seriously and can't even muster up a bit of smarty-pants Tarantino cleverness or energy.

The film follows the decision of an El Paso criminal defense attorney (Fassbender) to venture into the high-stakes world of drug trafficking. “The Counselor,” as his partners call him, is in financial trouble, although he flies to Amsterdam to buy a diamond for his lady friend Laura (Cruz). So, the Counselor sets out to participate in a drug deal with flashy pal Renier (Bardem). He picks the brain of another acquaintance, Westray (Pitt), who, thankfully, injects a bit of playfulness into the movie.

Just about everything goes wrong in Scott's film, although Fassbender is solid and Bardem and Pitt are amusing. But the script does them no favors and is even harder on the women. Diaz gets the worst assignment as Malkina. She shocks Renier by having sex with his car while he sits stunned in the passenger seat. Renier's description of the event, shown in flashback, is funny, but the sight of Diaz writhing on the windshield doesn't help you share his horror. It just makes you feel sorry for Diaz and everybody else in this silly, affected, self-important movie.

Connie Ogle is a staff writer for The Miami Herald.

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