Some of the smartest, wittiest dialog is in Ned Rifle. I would love to read the script so I could savor the cogent commentary that was spoken at such a rapid pace it was difficult to grasp all the references. It's a spoof on intellectuals acted out by well-read characters, on religion by religious believers, on the pharmaceutical industry by a sincere doctor, and on common "normal" people for their prudeness and reliance on stereotypes to form their opinions. This is all done in hyperstylized mode that reminds of an old movie that has been modernized.
Ned Grim (aka Rifle) (Aiken) has been sheltered by a minister's family while his father is missing and his mother is in the penitentiary for unclear reasons. We only hear the cryptic gossip about her, and never really get the full story. Ned carries a grudge against his father "for what he did" to his mother, and now he feels that to be a good Christian he needs to kill him as the devil's representative. Various things will stand in his way, most notably a stalker of his Nobel Prize-winning uncle who wants him to give her access to the uncle. This odd character shows up at every turn, with time revealing her horrific history, which makes you worry about Ned's safety, for he is naive and trusting and utterly committed to Christian charity.
In this zany movie, colorful characters keep turning up with various connections to one another and situations you just wouldn't expect, such as the mother having her story ghost written "by a young graduate student", a prior intimate of the father who is suddenly re-appearing, a bit of family history that shows the father and his brother as writers competing with one another, and one character surprisingly central to everyone.
Plaza is a stand-out in this performance with her outlandish get-ups, her geeky lightning-speed brain, apparent innocence covering up so much. Aiken’s character is more subdued, but he still carries a quiet presence that makes you notice him. Posey is always good, but her screen time in this picture is relatively brief.
I admire Hal Hartley’s ability to write scripts that can proceed through three sequenced films, with the last one standing on its own so that the viewer will not have had to see the previous ones. I am actually one of those people, and I had no trouble getting engaged with Ned Rifle and being able to make sense of it. In fact, this makes me want to see its antecedents. Although I am sure the academically loaded dialog went past many, I was fascinated by it.
A satire of academic, religious, and medical worlds, and frequent biases among ordinary people.
Grade: A- By Donna R. Copeland