Sunday, August 16, 2015
As an American serviceman photographing a Japanese ritual, Karl Kinsky (Dern) became fascinated with the participants’ tattoos and became a tattoo artist in Hoboken. Brooks effectively delivers this backstory in about a minute; you just know a contemporary remake would spend forty minutes uselessly setting up Kinsky’s “origin.” Karl, whose childhood artistic pretensions were stifled by his family, who still disapprove of his occupation, is rather unbelievably hired by a high-fashion magazine to paint temporary tattoos on models for a big summer issue shoot.
One of the models is Maddy Summers (Adams, who must have been hired for her willingness to do nudity and not for her acting), with whom the sexually repressed Kinsky becomes unhealthily fixated. So he drugs her, kidnaps her, and tattoos her. He forces her to masturbate, but is unable to sleep with her until his masterpiece — a full body tattoo — is complete. In one of TATTOO’s many dumb moments, it’s revealed that Karl has also given himself one without answering how the hell he could tattoo an elaborate design on his own back and ass.
There’s very little stretch from Dern’s unhinged psycho mad scientist in THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT to his performance in TATTOO. Because he was typecast at the time — according to Dern, he took the TATTOO role only after the studio rejected him for Len Cariou’s part in FOUR SEASONS — Dern could play Karl Kinsky in his sleep. Even though he played the role with some thought — I like the way Karl, a former public telephone disinfector, holds a handkerchief over the phone receiver when he speaks into it — the leaden direction by the one-and-done Brooks (whose experience was basically British TV commercials and two SPACE: 1999 episodes) and the uncompromising yet heavy-handed screenplay by Joyce Buñuel (who was married to Luis Buñuel’s son) let Dern down.