Susan Granger’s review of “Demolition” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
While wealthy Wall Street investment banker Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his wife, Julia (Heather Lind), are bickering in their car, they’re blindsided and there’s a horrific crash.
Julia’s dead, but all Davis can think about is the package of Peanut M&Ms that got stuck in the chrome spiral of the hospital’s vending machine.
So he channels his numbing grief into writing the first in a series of confrontational letters to Champion Vending Machines, while – far too literally – heeding the advice of his anguished father-in-law, Phil (Chris Cooper).
“Repairing a human heart is like repairing an automobile,” Davis is told, “You have to take it apart – and examine everything. Then you can put it back together.”
Which means that when the refrigerator leaks, Davis bashes it apart. The same with the cappuccino machine, creaky bathroom door, light fixture and an office computer that freezes up. Eventually, Davis joins a wrecking crew, wielding a sledgehammer.
Meanwhile, sympathetic Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), the vending machine company’s customer service representative, realizes that this widower’s angst goes far deeper than a package of Peanut M&Ms, so she impulsively calls him – at 2 a.m.; not surprisingly, a weird relationship develops between these two troubled souls.
But the most memorable, if somewhat misguided scene occur between Davis and Karen’s rebellious, classic rock-loving, pre-teen son, Chris (Judah Lewis), when the vulnerable, angst-riddled kid, searching for his identity, asks if he might be homosexual.
First-time screenwriter Bryan Sipe, French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee (“Wild,” “Dallas Buyers Club”) and actor Jake Gyllenhaal work overtime to delineate Davis’s cryptic, almost sociopathic lack of empathy with clumsy dark comedy.
FYI: In a bizarre coincidence, in both “Southpaw” (2015) and “Demolition” (2016), Jake Gyllenhaal’s character’s wife dies in the opening scenes.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Demolition” is a flawed, dysfunctional 5, like the metaphoric street signs on which he fixates: Detour, Wrong Way, Dead End.