'Counselor, we've got a problem," Brad Pitt says to Michael Fassbender, on the phone in The Counselor, holding a newspaper that reads HEADLESS BODY BAFFLES POLICE.
The cops aren't the only ones who'll be baffled by this A-list, B-movie caper, with a script by Cormac McCarthy, directed by Ridley Scott, and with Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz along for the ride.
Fassbender has the title role - he's a Texas lawyer with a get-rich-quick scheme that involves partnering with Reiner (Bardem), a man with a house that speaks money, and a man who speaks in bursts of enigmatic, existential hoo-ha. (Everybody in The Counselor talks like they've just come from standing over the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist's typewriter, a fresh sheet of copy in their hands. No one in The Counselor talks like a real person.)
The plan involves a shipment of heroin stashed inside a septic-tank truck. But the truck gets hijacked - at least once, probably twice, possibly three times, leaving dead people all over the El Paso roadways. Fassbender has good reason to want the money: He has fallen for the beautiful Laura (Cruz), and goes all the way to Amsterdam to buy a diamond he can dazzle her with.
Pitt is a long-haired, cowboy-booted middleman - he has lots of sage advice, and lots of money in offshore accounts. And then there is Malkina (Diaz), who lives with Reiner and their two pet cheetahs. The couple go out in the desert with their binoculars and picnic lunch and watch with affection as the regal cats bring down jackrabbits at 70 m.p.h.
Reiner also has a romantic story to tell about his yellow Ferrari and Malkina's ability to do splits. She's a demure lass: dagger fingernails, a gold tooth, paw-print tattoos, and a jewelry shop's worth of baubles.
The Counselor hopscotches from Texas to the Continent (things end, and not well, on a London sidewalk for one principal), with stops in Chicago and Boise. Yes, Boise.
Scott nicely captures the bleak majesty of the Lone Star scapes, and he gets his actors to look cagey and cool, conflicted and conspiratorial, as warranted. Cruz and Fassbender are even kind of sweet together, before things go bad.
McCarthy's screenplay, a tangle of doublecrosses and dead men, has just been published. Those who really want to know what's going on would be advised to buy a copy.
Then again, it may not help. As Pitt says to Fassbender in another of their increasingly urgent tête-à-têtes: "Maybe I should tell you what Mickey Rourke told What's-his-face."
Hmm, yeah, maybe he should.
The Counselor **1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Ridley Scott. With Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Michael Fassbender, and Brad Pitt. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.
Running time: 1 hour, 57 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, sex, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters