Three Businessmen (1998)


USA/Netherlands. 1998.


Director – Alex Cox, Screenplay/Producer – Tod Davies, Photography – Robert Tregenza, Additional Photography – Adam Varda, Music – Pray for Rain, Production Design – Martin Turner. Production Company – VPRO/Filmfonds Rotterdam/Exterminating Angel Productions


Miguel Sandoval (Bennie Reyes), Alex Cox (Frank King), Robert Wisdom (Leroy Jasper), Isabel Ampudia (Josefina)


Two businessmen, Latin American Bennie Reyes and Englishman Frank King, meet while sitting down to dinner in the restaurant of a Liverpool hotel, both turning out to be art dealers. However, the kitchen staff seemingly abandon them and so they go into the streets in search of a restaurant. However, each place they arrive at is either just closing or will not serve them. They become lost and their wanderings through the city on foot and local transit somehow take them to Rotterdam, Hong Kong, Tokyo and finally to the small desert town.

Alex Cox once emerged with fresh and anarchic energy with the cult hit Repo Man (1984) and followed this with the acclaimed Sid and Nancy (1986), a biopic of Sex Pistol Sid Vicious. However, just when it seemed a major new indie talent had arrived, Alex Cox vanished from screens. Cox has made other films – Walker (1987), the quasi-surreal modern Spaghetti Western Straight to Hell (1987), The Winner (1996), The Highway Patrolman (1993), the Jorge Luis Borges adaptation Death and the Compass (1996), Revengers Tragedy (2002), Searchers 2.0 (2007), Repo Chick (2009) and Bill the Galactic Hero (2014) – and makes occasional appearances as an actor in other people’s films. Not even arthouse releasing circuits could find any interest in most of these to give them a cinematic release. Seen, it is clear why Cox has all but vanished – his films have become increasingly dreary and amateurish, crafted as obscure intellectual jokes that it feels like Cox is telling to himself. Missing from them is any of the rough and raw splendour of either Repo Man or Sid and Nancy.

With Three Businessmen, Alex Cox has clearly been influenced by Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), which was about a group of people attempting to have dinner who keep getting sidetracked by surreal events. Cox hangs the film on the single gag of two businessmen – with the titular third turning up almost right at the end – trying to go to dinner but each establishment closing just as they arrive, with the search for restaurants taking them from Liverpool to Rotterdam to Hong Kong, Tokyo and some unidentified (probably Mexican) nowhere desert town, all of which are seemingly connected together by taxi drive, municipal transport and walking distance.

Alas, the film is an obscure joke – it is not even until we are well into the Asian cities that it starts to become apparent what is happening. Eventually, Cox pulls a twist ending that makes for a weak Biblical shaggy dog sting in the tale that comes far too late in the game. The rest of the journey is filled with sub-Richard Linklater philosophical ramblings between Cox and an overacting Miguel Sandoval that cover everything from theme music on answer phones, anti-Beatles ramblings to Artificial Intelligence, and sound less like Alex Cox has any profound point to make than he is rambling from subject to subject without any cohesion or aforethought.

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