It was over so quickly: Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his wife are driving one seemingly normal weekday afternoon when a car crashes into the side of their vehicle, killing her. He reacts strangely to her death. After he receives the sad news at the hospital, he goes to a vending machine, which takes his money without delivering the candy, so he photographs the vending company’s contact information with his phone. He shows up at work rather than taking time to grieve. His boss, who is also his father-in-law, deeply mourns the loss of his daughter and dismisses his son-in-law’s aloofness as shock over the tragedy. Despite many more pressing matters to deal with, Davis decides to write the vending machine company, not just one letter about the lost coins, but a series of letters.
Out of concern for his mental stability, the vending machine company’s customer service representative Karen (Naomi Watts) calls Davis, and their initial exchanges result in an intertwinement of their lives. Davis also begins to take pleasure in destroying structures, even paying construction site foremen to participate in the demolition of buildings (hence the film’s title).
“Demolition” fails simply because of its storyline’s absolute implausibility. A man at a hospital learns that a car accident, in which he was involved, killed his wife. He then attempts to buy peanut candy, the machine doesn’t deliver, he writes a bunch of letters to the vending machine company and the customer service rep decides to reach out and even meet him. This story is set in New York City, where people are very cautious of strangers. And of course they both happen to be very attractive people.
Without a credible foundation, it’s impossible for “Demolition” to work.
It’s unfortunate that some very solid performances are wasted on this farfetched plot. Gyllenhaal as Davis in the lead almost succeeds in the Atlas-like task of supporting this entire project and carrying it to success. Veteran actor Chris Cooper excels as the tough businessman who is emotionally devastated by the loss of his “little girl.” Newcomer Judah Lewis, who plays Karen’s son, enriches the film as he deals with some coming-of-age realities.
Another problem with this film is that it rushes through several important developments towards the end, as if the creators either ran out of money or ran out time.
As to our cast diversity rating, “Demolition” gets a “C.” Although actors of color have a few speaking roles and are sprinkled throughout background scenes, only one—Blaire Brooks, who plays Davis’ assistant—appears in multiple scenes.
“Demolition,” rated R and 101 minutes in length, gets our lowest rating: Dead on Arrival. It’s not a horrible film, but it’s neither a “See It!” nor a “Rent It.”