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Awesome: 0%
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Pretty Crappy100%
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by Jaycie

"You could certainly do worse."
2 stars

It's unusual for me not to know this, but why did everyone else loathe this movie so much? This is one of the few films to obtain a highly coveted 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, putting it in the company of Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas and several direct-to-video Disney sequels that never should have been thought about, much less made. Caffeine is easier to drink down than any of those.

Oh, don't get me wrong, it has its 0% elements. Like the part where a guy shits himself. And the cast singalong over the closing credits. And its tagline: "There's always something strange brewing." (COME ON!) Other than that, the main problem with Caffeine is that it was made for the wrong set. Had it been presented on the secondary stage of a fringe theatre festival, it would probably have gone over much better. Even having said that, it's perfectly harmless. It can even be kind of a larf at certain moments if your Netflix selections aren't doing it for you.

This is one of those movies in which a large ensemble cast deals with their (sometimes) interconnected personal dramas, only with much less star power than such movies normally feature, but also with much less arrogance. In the foreground, we follow the staff of London's Black Cat Café, managed by Rachel (Marsha Thomason), who throws out her chef/boyfriend Charlie (Callum Blue) for a sexual transgression he rather hilariously tries to explain away. Working the dining room, we have aspiring novelist Dylan (Breckin Meyer), the most up-his-ass person who ever waited tables - saying a lot, I know - and Vanessa (Mena Suvari), who's been saddled with her senile grandmother Lucy (Roz Witt) for the day. As if a reduced and distracted waitstaff isn't enough to deal with, relief cook Tom (Mark Pellegrino) is a culinary ignoramus; his version of lasagna more closely resembles leftovers from the shepherd's pie you choked down to please your great-aunt. Oh, and Rachel is due for a visit from the owner of a much nicer restaurant (Neil Dickson) that may want to hire her, and nobody can figure out where the condom wrapper in her office came from, so there's that.

The customers aren't much better. We have Laura, played by Katherine Heigl in the rare role of the less obnoxious half of a bad blind date. Her ex-boyfriend Mike (Andrew Lee Potts) is, by coincidence, also present, with his mate Danny (Mike Vogel) on hand to provide standard-issue stoner humor. There's also a secret porn star (Sonya Walger) with a jealous boyfriend (Orlando Seale), a bitchy lawyer (Jules Leyser) whose fiancé (Mark Dymond), plus his friend (Andrew Ableson), have embarrassing secrets of their own, a guy with a guitar (Hal Ozsan) and a loudmouthed fat girl (Paula Jane Newman). Basically, everyone you would expect to find in "quirky coffeehouse comedy" is present and accounted for.

None of these storylines are strikingly original, or even mildly original, on their own. The comedy comes from all of them piling on top of one another into a particularly stressful day in the life, and watching the characters figure out how to get over it. One of the better storytelling tricks is when the characters visualize their suspicions and revelations mid-conversation. But this could easily have been better executed on stage with some clever lighting. Overall, Caffeine's limited setting and dialogue-driven plot are more suitable for a play than a movie, and using the latter medium cheapens the whole conceit.

The actors seem to realize this subconsciously; many of them have an unfortunate tendency to get hammy, especially Meyer. Not until I saw his performance here did I realize how much of his work is based on pissy exclamatory sentences. Put those in the mouth of a busboy hoping to publish an "existential novel" (yes, he says this) and you get the most punchable guy you know. The strongest performance is that of Suvari, who views the proceedings with a cynical twinkle in her eye while mixing in both annoyance and concern for Grandma. You might think a graduate of Providence High School in Burbank, California, has no business affecting a London accent, but she pulls it off - markedly better than Ms. Heigl, who sounds like the lead in a tenth-grade adaptation of Downton Abbey. At least Meyer kept his American accent and spared us that head trauma.

The director is John Cosgrove, which explains a great deal. Before Caffeine, he was primarily a TV movie director, and of documentaries and true crime dramas at that, neither genre being known for its cinematographic artistry. I have absolutely no idea why Cosgrove got involved with this project; you might as well recruit the Farrelly Brothers to direct Godfather in Space. The screenwriter is Dean Craig, best known for Death at a Funeral and also responsible for some Hangover and Superbad rip-offs you've never heard of. Caffeine was his first feature-length script after a pair of shorts, which also explains a lot. Together, they didn't produce an unmitigated disaster, but they were both far out of their elements. That it was shot in Los Angeles instead of London, and that its top actors and director are non-Brits, doesn't help; a purely British production would have handled the quirk much more deftly than this trans-Atlantic mush.

But is it THAT BAD? Simply put, no, it's not. Most critics would have you believe Caffeine is the cinematic equivalent of that battery acid-tasting sludge you get when they forget to throw out the grounds that have stayed in the machine all night. I prefer to think of it as a cup of McCafé: definitely not the best, far from it, but tolerable enough if you just need to keep your eyes open for the next two hours.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16806&reviewer=432
originally posted: 11/22/15 20:50:48
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  16-Mar-2007 (R)
  DVD: 24-Apr-2007

  N/A (15)
  DVD: 27-Aug-2007

  N/A (MA)

Directed by
  John Cosgrove

Written by
  Dean Craig

  Mena Suvari
  Callum Blue
  Breckin Meyer
  Katherine Heigl
  Mark Pellegrino
  Mike Vogel
  Roz Witt

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