by David Cornelius
“Distortion” opens with a near-terrific scene. Having quickly established a young couple as twitchy, nervous druggies stuck in a spiral of desperation, they arrive at an abandoned warehouse manned by the worst society has to offer. Through contacts we are somewhat grateful not to have met ourselves, Rachel (Sara Lahti) has agreed to appear in some questionable internet porn, at five hundred bucks a scene - enough to get her and boyfriend Porter (Kirk Fogg) out of town and on the road to a new life.As the couple enters this dark corner of civilization, we feel the walls close in. They don’t know anyone there; the people there don’t trust them. Rachel agrees to things she should not be doing, while Porter squirms as he watches their lives slip further into decay. It is a bad situation that can only get worse, no matter what the outcome, and we, too, feel the pressure. Here is a great example of wringing the most tension out of a single scene.
"Hey! It's that guy! What's he doing now? Oh. Oh, dear."
This opening sequence is so carefully constructed that it’s a major shame that the rest of the film can’t even come close to matching it. What kicks off as a clever, deeply effective thriller, full of wrong turns and frightening characters, all too quickly devolves into a royal mess. You see, Porter, doped out beyond reason, gets knocked out and dumped on the other side of town; he longs to find Rachel, whom he is convinced has been kidnapped, or maybe killed, by the pornographers. Porter used to be an undercover detective, and so he uses his vast resources to follow the trail back to his girl. But there’s too little to the trail - just a collection of limp episodes mixing question-asking and yelling that ultimately go nowhere and provide zero interest - that makes this a mystery without a mystery. There’s no desire on our part to follow Porter’s investigation. We’re just watching a loser slump around town for an hour, end of story. The finale is not just a letdown, but a cinematic shrug. By this point, who cares?
Fogg, who also wrote and directed this indie thriller, remains best known as the host of the 1990s Nickelodeon game show “Legends of the Hidden Temple.” To call his first feature film a deviation from his former public self would be an understatement. Many people long to break out of the children’s entertainment rut by diving head-first into more adult material, and here Fogg gives us porn, crack, guns, bad language, and other grown-up naughtiness.But when Fogg takes this dive, he forgets to check the pool to see if there’s anything in it. As a filmmaker, he falls headfirst into his own ambitions. Fogg focuses far too much on making this an acting exercise (watch how the camera lingers on his drugged-out monologues) and not enough on the story itself. It is not enough to make a story about vile people. They must do something to hold our interest; if the mystery aspect of this neo-noir wannabe cannot hold, at least give us people so lost in their own dangerous lives that we’re fascinated by their problems. “Distortion” begins well enough, making us unable to turn away from these people at the lowest point in their lives, but then it loses its footing and never gets it back. Fogg insists on showing us again and again that he can handle the mature material, when he should be worrying about telling us an interesting story.
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originally posted: 05/19/07 18:31:48