The confused, heel-dragging mystery drama Exposed suggests an especially dour, arty episode of Law & Order: SVU, minus any reasons to keep watching. Bringing all the presence of a victim-of-the-week part to a lead role, Ana De Armas stars as Isabel, a woman who experiences the sort of coincidental tragedy and sexual violence usually reserved for Lars Von Trier protagonists, prompting visits from music-video-esque angels and an apparently miraculous pregnancy. Meanwhile, NYPD Detective Galban (Keanu Reeves) pistol-whips and scowls his way through an investigation into the murder of his corrupt partner, which has to have something to do with Isabel, seeing as that’s the only reason a movie like this would keep cutting between two unrelated characters in what appear to be different time frames. First-time writer-director Gee Malik Linton had his name replaced with the Alan Smithee-style pseudonym “Declan Dale” after a falling out with the studio, which re-cut the film (originally titled Daughter Of God) before dumping it on to VOD and into a bare minimum of theaters.
If it’s any consolation to the parties involved, Exposed could have ended up being worse; however, it’s unlikely that it could have been much better. Trainwreck-bad movie enthusiasts will be disappointed to find a film largely defined by its lack of energy, in which every scene seems to be stalling for time. One crawling Steadicam shot, in which a gangster played by Big Daddy Kane engages a Haitian drug dealer in a semi-improvised discussion of criminal enterprise, brings to mind the zonked-out direct-to-video rapper vanity projects of the late ’90s and early 2000s. Reeves—who looks his age for once, thanks to an unflattering Cold War G-man haircut—is miscast as a Neanderthal loose cannon who beats up witnesses in front of their kids. (There’s some sick humor to the decision to re-name the movie Exposed, given that Galban spends much of the film wearing the tan raincoat of the archetypal flasher.) Intercutting two storylines is a tension-building technique that goes back to the silent era, but here, it just adds to the air of somnambulance; sometimes, the last shot of a scene is held for so long that the actors appear hypnotized into standing in place, waiting for a call of “Cut!” to snap them out of it.
Linton’s taste for working in long takes (lensed by Trevor Forrest, who shot The Leisure Class and apparently specializes in behind-the-scenes fiascos) guarantees that Exposed looks a cut above the average yawn-inducing procedural, while also making sure that the writer-director’s arthouse inspirations don’t go unnoticed. He’s seen Irréversible, Bad Lieutenant, and Mysterious Skin, and taken the wrong lessons from all of them. It’s been reported that the studio stepped in after disagreements arose about the amount of Spanish-language dialogue in the film (most of De Armas’ scenes) and the size of Reeves’ role. But there’s nothing here to suggest a subtle, supernatural-tinged psychodrama had been thwarted by someone’s attempts to turn it into a cop movie; on a fundamental level, this is soapy, pretentious twaddle, complete with a subway-lurking rapist, incoherent religious symbolism, and a dog that gets run over for emotional effect. Exposed was not screened for critics.