Chain of Fools [R] 
(Awww... You don't really want me to replace the one with Chinese subtitles, do you?)
Now available without Chinese subtitles on a real DVD!
Overall movie: ****
EJW content: How comedy should be acted; ensemble cast
Dark, surreal, absurdist - and really funny (if you like dark, surreal, absurdist comedy). You may find yourself laughing at some things you're not sure you should be laughing at: crime, hatred, deception, hitmen, murder, suicide, Cats... I'd add dysfunctional families, but a comedy doesn't have to be particularly dark to use them as a source of humor.
Like most well-done movies of this type, it's not as simple as it first appears. It forces you to pay attention to it, because the story's not told linearly; the same scene may pop up in several different parts of the movie from different characters' POVs, or - as in the case of Elijah's character - from several layers of one character's POV. By the end of it, the whole thing makes an odd sort of sense.
So do the characters. I found myself thinking about them a lot after watching the movie, and feeling as if these bizarre individuals had more truth to them than a lot of the "realistic" types Hollywood gives us. They may respond to their inner dilemmas in wildly different ways than I would, but the inner dilemmas themselves have a sense of familiarity about them. And because the movie does show us things differently when we're in different POVs, there's a feel of being "inside" the characters' psyches at times. I'm talking here about the sympathetic characters. There are two completely unfunny murders in the middle of the movie that are even more shocking because they occur in the midst of the absurdity - everything suddenly is very real, and it becomes difficult (for me, at least) to see the killer in a comedic or sympathetic light after that. But from the strength of the effect, I'm assuming that was exactly what the filmmakers intended. There are a few other characters I have a hard time identifying with, but I suspect that list might be a bit different for each viewer.
Elijah's character is one of the ones we come to sympathize with, even though he's a hitman... or is he? Even he doesn't seem to quite know the answer to that. He's certainly lost, as are most of these characters - each in his or her own way. The "happy ending" (in its own odd fashion, so I'm not really giving anything away) seems to come from these lost people wandering around and bumping into other lost people and discovering that if they wander around together they're not quite as lost. And, I dunno, but to me that seems more real - and even more hopeful - than a "Hollywood style" happy ending.
Elijah does his usual disappearing act - into the character - even though there's nothing done to change his looks or the way he talks. (If I picked up any "outside influence" it was a bit of Barney Snow peeking through once in awhile, possibly because both characters are ones who've had their emotions almost forcibly pushed inside them.) In one foot chase scene toward the end of the movie, he does some impressive physical stuff, and frame-by-frame analysis shows he must have done all, or almost all, of it himself (there's one moment that could have been a stuntman). There are scenes throughout the film where he shifts seamlessly from over-the-top absurdity to subtle shows of emotion - both of which are completely true to the character, and necessary for us to understand him. The surreal part of the character's humor (as with all the characters in this movie) comes from the over-the-top stuff, as we see "reality" not ignored but put under a magnifying glass - and recognize it. But the thought-provoking part of him comes from the subtle stuff, as we have a moment of recognition of the reality within this surreal character - and ourselves. It's hard to point to examples of anything in this movie because it's so non-linear, but for what I think is Elijah's best "emotional switch-hitting," try the conversation in the main character's bathroom (righthand screencap at the top of this page is from one of this scene's over-the-top moments).
When commenting on an R-rated movie, I try to give an idea of why it received that rating. This one is a combination of some violence (a bit of it rather bizarre, in keeping with the mood of the film), some language, some partial nudity (most of it in a Playboy magazine one of the characters is reading), and a brief glimpse of a lesbian sexual encounter. It's also very possible that some people would find it offensive to use one or more of the subjects I listed in the first paragraph as a source of humor. For what it's worth, I tend to be very sensitive to how suicide is portrayed in any film - drama or comedy - and in this movie I found it to be as surreal and as recognizably real (as over-the-top and as thought-provoking) as everything else, and wasn't offended by it. In the context of the story, it gives these lost people a common link through which they can begin to understand each other.
And, oh, yes, there is a story. But that's a wild (and non-linear) ride I'll let you experience yourself.
Now available on actual DVD!
(But I feel as if I should keep the following, at least for awhile, to remind us how it was.)
A note on this movie's availability: It was made before LotR-FotR, but Warner Brothers released it in theaters only in Sweden (where the director lives), and has kept pushing back the video/DVD release. That release has occurred in Australia and at least part of Asia, but not in "Region 1" VHS or DVD formatting for U.S. or Canadian machines. Seems rather strange, given the "names" in the cast: Jeff Goldblum, Salma Hayek, Lara Flynn Boyle, David Hyde Pierce (and Elijah Wood's a "name" now, too, you know)...
Some Americans who are fans of either Salma Hayek or Elijah have ordered the Chinese-subtitled VCD (which can be played on most U.S. DVD players) from yesasia.com. That's the route I finally went, and I have no complaints. The subtitles aren't distracting (there's one truly strange moment when two characters say a few sentences in Mandarin, and we have English subtitles). A VCD is more like watching a VHS than a DVD, because it can't store all the features a DVD can (no scene choice or "next chapter" features for example). I was able to make screencaps from it, but they're not the same quality they would be from a DVD.