Although based on the true story of an unstable actor who, cast as Orestes in Sophocles' Electra, so identified with the role that he actually killed his mother, Werner Herzog's wacky new film plays as one long, shaggy jape. Local police are coping with a situation in suburban San Diego: A matricidal maniac, Brad McCullum (played with total conviction by glowering Michael Shannon), is holed up in the family ranch house with a couple of hostages. Brad's clueless fiancée, Ingrid (Chloë Sevigny), sits around sipping coffee and regaling an absurdly solicitous detective (Willem Dafoe) with tales of Brad's lunacy. Flashbacks show him ragging on his late mother (pop-eyed Grace Zabriskie, a favorite creature of executive producer David Lynch) and making a scene at the local Naval hospital where the staff objects to his plan to comfort the afflicted with embroidered gift-shop pillows. From time to time, Ingrid is spelled as a raconteur by Brad's erstwhile director (Herzog's countryman Udo Kier, amusingly epicene in his mimed concern). Non sequiturs proliferate—particularly on the family ostrich farm run by Brad's uncle (Brad Dourif). Everything about this berserk, essentially static procedural is just crazy enough to be true. In any case, Herzog has gone beyond Good and Evil to reinvent himself as a candidate for the title of wiggiest director of comedy in America today.
Shannon: Total homicidal conviction.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Mon., April 5–Thurs., April 15. Not rated. 91 minutes.