Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Nowhere Man (2002)

Directed by:
Tim McCann

Judging by the reviews online, this seems like a "love it or hate it" type of film. After watching it, I came away strongly indifferent to what I saw. It's put together fairly well for the budget range, the technical work (lighting, photography, sound, editing...) is above average for the format (digital video) and it is well acted by both indy horror queen Debbie Rochon and promising leading man Michael Rodrick. Unfortunately, there are some jarring tonal issues here; it fluctuates from intriguing and entertaining to monotonous and unfocused... sometimes within the confines of a single scene! It also seemed to drag on for about 20-30 minutes longer than it should have. With a run time of just 80 minutes (about ten of which consist of credits and some sorely misused closing credit outtakes), it is simply unforgivable for a film barely clocking in over an hour to drag and seem padded out. Simply put, there isn't enough material here for a feature film.

The structure of the plot doesn't intrigue as much as it annoys - jumping back-and-forth in time is becoming such a cliché now that it's almost expected in a film of this nature. But fracturing the time frame on a script does not add any additional depth to an already slim storyline. Nor does it automatically give it any kind of immediate artistic value. Nor does it heighten any of the suspense. This film would have played out much, much better had it taken place in real time with the events chronologically presented. If we could see the embitterment and desperation of the Rochon character grow and grow without being constantly interrupted, the impact would have been much greater and the violent retribution of her character much more believable. But the filmmakers have already chosen to present it in a certain way and it's too late to go back now. I'll go ahead and lay out the story chronologically to make the point that the layout of scenes is nowhere near as important as content contained within.

Nowhere Man, basically a black comic play-up on the John and Lorena Bobbitt castration story, deals with a middle class New Yorker named Conrad (Rodrick), presented flatly as a typical male with typical male hang ups, who seems to be in a fairly healthy relationship with his long-term girlfriend Jennifer (Debbie), who he wants to marry and have a family with. One day out of the blue an unmarked video ends up on the doorstep of their shared apartment a la David Lynch's LOST HIGHWAY. But instead of the visions of a creepy voyeur, he sees his girlfriend in an amateur porn tape from many years earlier having sex with a well-endowed porn star named Daddy Mac (Frank Oliver). It is then that his jealously, machismo, ego, violent and sadistic temperament and abusiveness kick into gear and he puts Jennifer through a humiliating ordeal before throwing her out into the street. He shows the tape to all of his friends at a party, voices his opinion about what a worthless whore he thinks Jennifer is and, in the films most grueling scene, subjects her to the most impersonal rape-sex scenario imaginable where he refuses her any form of tenderness. Jennifer is thoroughly devastated, confused and dehumanized... so she sneaks into his bedroom one night and cuts off his penis with a pair of shears and runs away with it (one way to cure the male ego problem, eh?). The rest of the film details Conrad's attempt to retrieve his penis before it goes "bad." If he gets it back in a certain amount of time, it's salvageable. By the time it gets to that point, I seriously doubt many people will want him to get his way, so the director appeases his audience's desire for a fiery finish...

At best, the film offers a platform for the two lead actors to prove they deserve a shot at better roles in better quality productions. I've always felt that Rochon's talent has been shamefully wasted over the years on films that exploit her looks over her acting chops, so it's nice to see her in a juicier role that actually allows her opportunity to expand on a character. Rodrick is equally fine (not that I gave a f**k what happened to 'Conrad' after a half hour or so) and could hold his own in a more expensive production; he's good looking, appealing and delivers most of his lines believably and naturally. Much of the supporting cast (including Lloyd Kaufman in a brief cameo as a doctor) is amateurish and detract a little from the overall realism, but not enough for that to be an overall factor in this films overall quality.

But there is so much untapped potential here... unexplored subtext and worthwhile dramatic content about love, loss and adult relationships that is not even explored... The script doesn't seem to give the characters the right words at the right times... The camera doesn't stay where it should at crucial moments... A lot of it seems half-hearted and unfinished. There IS meat on these bones, but there's no real muscle or flesh. It's not terrible like some say, but it's also not a revelation like others would like you to believe. It's a case of being a watchable film that could have been so much more.


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