With Werner Herzog directing and David Lynch as executive producer, it's no surprise that My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is such an eccentric, often dreamlike concoction. What is unexpected is that the film manages to be flat and uninteresting, despite the juicy (or at least lurid) true story from 1979 that inspired this curio.
Lexington native Michael Shannon, whose tedious performance is a far cry from his Oscar-nominated turn in Revolutionary Road, stars as Brad, a disturbed would-be actor who goes full-on batty after rehearsing the lead in a stage production of the Greek tragedy Orestes, in which the title character kills his mother with a sword.
Life unconvincingly imitates art as Brad replays the murder for real with his doting mother (Grace Zabriskie), then holes up in his home with two hostages while cops (Willem Dafoe and Michael Peña) oversee the crime scene.
Chloë Sevigny, as Brad's seemingly sensible fiancée (truly, what's she doing with this psycho?), and Brad's Orestes director (Udo Kier, a little of whom goes a long way) tell the cops about Brad's recent life through flashbacks that take us as far as Peru but offer little meaningful insight.
Meanwhile, ostriches, flamingos, mariachis, little people, player pianos, Jell-O, oatmeal and an abandoned basketball all factor in, mainly for the sake of quirkiness.
Herzog (Fitzcarraldo, Grizzly Man, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans), who wrote the bumpy script with Herbert Golder, might have given the film its stilted, slightly campy vibe — which he used to great effect in the revved-up Bad Lieutenant — but it doesn't enrich the story, showcase the talent or engage the viewer. Still, as a writer-director with five decades' worth of notable screen work to his credit, he certainly can't be faulted for taking risks, even if it means now and then, well, falling on his sword.