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Big Heart City

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/19/08 10:29:12

"Worst Hardy Boys adventure ever."
1 stars (Sucks)

SCREENED AT THE 2008 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: “Big Heart City” is a risk that never pays off. Writer/director Ben Rodkin has crafted a mystery with no mystery and a lead character too stupid to understand that obvious fact, which could lay the foundation for a clever spin on the noir genre, provided the lead’s world is fascinating enough. But our anti-hero fails to be interesting in his unpleasantness, and his universe fails to inspire any sense of drama.

Frank (Shawn Andrews) walked away from his life a few months back, and when he returns to his empty apartment, he’s actually surprised to discover his girlfriend is gone. He’s convinced something sinister is afoot, and so he sets out to find her. But Frank is too dumb, too dense, and too plain crazy to be a successful detective, and so he stumbles through his mission, often pausing (read: absentmindedly strolling off, completely forgetting his quest) to visit the race tracks.

Frank’s a gambler, although his dim-witted approach to life reaches this corner of his world, where he dreams of sure things and big paydays but actually just sort of meanders the tracks. Dreaming is Frank’s best - only, actually - attribute. He spends his days telling his boss (Seymour Cassel, adding a little much-needed zing to the project) about his hopes for the future, plans which involve his bride-to-be and the baby that’s on the way.

It’s obvious to everyone except Frank himself that he’s deluded, sometimes dangerously so. Andrews does a fine job conveying this sense of inner trouble, allowing most of the tension to remain unsaid. But Rodkin’s screenplay leaves Frank too boring, even in his nuttiness. Frank’s long, pointless wanderings (both mental and physical) and his inability to comprehend reality aren’t so much character quirks as irritations that fail to ignite any interest in the proceedings.

There are countless lost opportunities here. Consider a scene where Frank prides himself on discovering a possible clue: a doctor’s name scribbled on his girlfriend’s calendar. Frank’s thick-skulled failure to figure out what to do next leads to an almost joke (when asked who the doctor might be, Frank’s exasperated pal sarcastically quips, “I dunno, a doctor?”), and we get a sense of what this movie might be, with the numskull unraveling a non-mystery. But Rodkin refuses to dip into the comedy pool, instead taking us into a slow-going character study involving overlong scenes of Frank staring blankly at the neighborhood hooker.

We get a brief sketch of this lonely idiot; the script comes close several times in studying why nobody wants to be around him, not even his few friends. But it’s all sketch and no real detail, and we find ourselves growing tired quickly. When Frank eventually finds his girlfriend, the movie trips over itself trying to make him the villain. He’s no real threat, just a confused brute, but this sudden change of perspective doesn’t amount to much.

Most problematic about the film, however, are the production values. There’s nothing wrong with a movie shot on the cheap, but when your entire project relies on quiet, often mumbly dialogue, you gotta make sure you understand how microphones work. This film sounds as if most of the lines were recorded either too far away from the action or too close to it; sound levels vary from hissy, soft, and inaudible to fuzzy, loud, and inaudible. Most of the key plot points get lost along the way. A movie like this, with all its no-pace sluggishness and frowny go-nowhere non-action, shouldn’t demand the audience to strain just to hear the basics.

It’s doubtful even the clearest of soundtracks would have helped rescue such a lethargic, flat work. “Big Heart City” plans a smart detour from a familiar genre, only to end up driving right off the road.

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