Just because there's a MacGuffin, it doesn't mean a film merits the label "Hitchcockian." And just because a plot is a jigsaw puzzle doesn't make it suspenseful. Grand Piano tries to hit the high notes set by the maestro of the thriller genre, but its derivative narrative and fumble-fingers execution make it a pale variation on a recycled theme.
Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood, otherwise capable and believable) is a fallen concert pianist coaxed out of a five-year hiatus for a comeback performance. Accompanied by a full orchestra and playing a custom Bosendorfer, Selznick encounters threatening messages scrawled between his bar lines. Forced to insert an earpiece found in his dressing room, Selznick encounters the demands of a hidden triggerman (John Cusack) training a laser sight at him and his wife, Emma (Kery Blishé). Play or die. Alert anyone and Emma also dies in her balcony box seat. And perfectly play the unplayable composition ... or die.
With director Eugenio Mira's overwrought staging and preposterous plotting, the result is like Speed meets bad Brian de Palma. Never mind how the already skittish Selznick—so stage frightened he barely musters the courage to enter the concert hall—manages to prattle with the villain and both dial and text on his cell phone while plunking out a piano concerto. Indeed, Selznick spends as much time darting around off-stage than performing for apparently the most patient concert audience ever.
The biggest flaw is that the characters are utterly one-note, as if props for a suspense thriller retrospective. Cusack's villain is a stock blustering baddie, while Emma oscillates between smiling and fretting for her beau from afar. Meanwhile, Selznick—his name is undoubtedly drawn from David O., the powerful producer of Alfred Hitchcock's early Hollywood work as well as other noir classics like The Third Man—is a fitful oddball who doesn't arouse much empathy to begin with.
To round out the tropes, there's a finale atop a catwalk and a "twist" ending. Although it's a composition that strikes some familiar chords, Grand Piano is hopelessly out of tune.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Grand illusions."