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‘Tone-Deaf’ Fails to Hit the Right Note

Dir. Richard Bates Jr.—3 STARS

‘Tone-Deaf’ still
Amanda Crew (left) stars as Olive and Robert Patrick (right) stars as Harvey in “Tone-Deaf” (2019), directed by Richard Bates Jr.

A modern day thriller interspersed with humorous monologues and dream sequences, “Tone-Deaf” is certainly entertaining. In “Tone-Deaf,” Robert Patrick takes on a new leading role compared to his previous productions, as an unstable and recently widowed man named Harvey who struggles with dementia. Patrick doesn’t disappoint. Left to his own devices after his wife’s suicide, Harvey has concluded that the last thing he needs to do before dying is to take someone else’s life. He begins his plan by advertising his house as a rental online, and the bait works. The first person to place an offer is Olive (Amanda Crew), a spoiled Millennial who books the rental in order to enjoy alone time and a much needed detox from her fast-paced city lifestyle. A mother on psychedelics and her daughter, who is by herself in a huge house with a mentally-declining old man, together make the perfect recipe for a discombobulated horror film. This film is a must-see in the same way that “Sharknado” or “The Human Centipede” are must-sees — purely for their shock value. However, in setting out to make a comedy-horror film, director Richard Bates Jr. ultimately does not succeed in balancing the film’s comedic beats and drama.

Olive is a typical 20-something working in a high-rise office space in Los Angeles under a churlish boss whom she absolutely despises, while dreaming of headlining as a pianist — her piano skills are abhorrent, but since no one has the heart to tell her so, she feeds her own delusional fantasies. Harvey is Olive’s polar opposite. He becomes obsessed with the prospect of killing someone because he feels that he has conquered all the other important milestones in life: graduating, getting married, having children. As Olive moves into his home, Harvey silently stalks her from his nearby cabin, where he rants and plots to murder her. Olive is a perfect victim: She represents everything Harvey despises, a caricature of the blissfully unaware and self-centered Millennial. Ironically, Harvey uses the technology that he so despises — putting his house on an Airbnb-style website to advertise it, researching Olive online through social media platforms, and so forth, suggesting that there isn’t that much of a generational gap between them. The hilarious rapport between the two characters is one of the few comedic highlights of the film.

The best parts of the film are the moments in which Harvey breaks the fourth wall to communicate with the audience. In his monologues, Harvey details the disappointment he feels towards his son, his hatred of new technology and of the sense of entitlement that seems to plague the millennial generation — all of which Patrick expresses with perfect gusto. His direct engagement with the viewer is definitely entertaining, but ultimately distracts the viewer from the absence of an original plot (a lonely and aimless man schemes to kill a young, unwitting girl).

While Harvey plots her murder, Olive remains blissfully unaware. She spends her time going on blind dates, purchasing LSD from a drug dealer who runs a faux car wash, and talking on the phone to her mother, who later (somewhat) comes to the rescue. The relationship between Olive and her mom is at best like a distant friendship, as Olive’s mom was absent throughout most of her childhood. She lives apart from Olive in her drug-induced hazes, so their eventual dramatic reunion serves as an out-of-place and rushed plot device.

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The film’s ending is slightly disappointing and anticlimactic, due to the fact the viewer becomes accustomed to Harvey’s erratic and quirky behavior and might expect a dramatic showdown. Bates unfortunately does not tie up loose ends in the plot and neglects to provide proper closure to Harvey’s story. Harvey has enigmatic, hallucinatory dream sequences in his delirious state that seem important, since they recur constantly, but that Bates never explains or explores. In result, the viewer is left feeling needlessly bewildered. While it strives to be a hilarious thriller, “Tone Deaf” lacks the right balance of comedy and horror that is achieved in films like the “Scary Movie” series, for example. Aside from a snarky commentary on modern day politics, the film doesn’t offer much to think about, besides providing a few good laughs and an adrenaline rush.

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