Wednesday, September 24, 2008

South of Pico

This indie film has won multiple festival awards, has a high rating on IMDB and was compared to one of my favorite movies, Crash. As in, it's better than Crash.

I thought to myself, "Better than Crash? I really need to see this!" Crash is one of those movies that I wish I'd written--plus South of Pico has the locality factor going for it. Pico Avenue is a main drag in L.A.--and one that I'm pretty familiar with. I figured I'd see lots of familiar sites in South of Pico. Places I could point at and say, "I've been there!"

So is it better than Crash?

Um, no.

That's a pretty high bar to reach, but South of Pico might as well be located in Antartica for as close to Crash as it gets. Let's see: they both start with a car accident and they both have multi-racial casts. But that's as far as the similarity goes.

South of Pico is blessed with a talented cast--Henry Simmons (NYPD Blue), Gina Torres (most recently seen as Simon Elder's ex-wife on Dirty Sexy Money!) and Kip Pardue (Remember the Titans). What it wasn't blessed with was a big budget or well-written script. The lack of budget is evident in shots that look washed out and faded and the obvious lack of rehearsal and tight filming schedule. Most of the dialogue delivery sounds like a table reading than actual acting.

The script is carefully constructed; opening with the sound of a horrific accident followed by a series of grunts and thuds. When we as the audience are allowed to view the scene, we get our first introduction to the four main characters who are all covered with blood. The film then flashes back to the beginning of the day before the accident and weaves the story of these four diverse individuals who are total strangers before a twist of fate brings them together. The narrative moves with ease between the four strangers and their stories, but relies too heavily on shallow plot devices to ramp up the drama.

Kip Pardue plays Robert Spencer, a limo driver who seems to be modeled on the Jude Law remake of Alfie. Early on we witness the limo lothario boffing a bride-to-be on the way to her wedding. It was at that point I said to myself, "This was written and directed by a guy." A guy who seems to have bought into the whole porn fetish fantasy. Yeah, every day cable guys, pizza delivery boys and limo drivers are having wild sex with their customers.


In other guy-like worldview, we see Patrick Wise (Soren Fulton), a young high-schooler, spying on a teenage couple making out in a stall in the boys bathroom. Not highly unlikely, but the scene was constructed so that:

1. Said couple spend no time checking for feet to make sure that the bathroom is truly empty.
2. Despite the fact Patrick can quite clearly see their feet, they are wholly oblivious to his.
3. So oblivious are our young lovers, they are not even aware that Patrick has heaved himself up to peer over the stall's wall at them.

I dare you--next time you're in a bathroom, pull yourself up so you can hang your head over the stall and see into the stall next to you and see if occupant of said stall doesn't hear or see that.


Henry Simmons plays Walter Chambers, a doctor specializing in treating pediatric cancer. He's got a golf game with Mr. Rush (Peter White aka "Linc Tyler" from All My Children), who is a rich prick that Walter is trying to get to fund his research center. How do we know he's a prick? Well, because we overhear Walter call him a prick in a phone conversation with his wife. And if that weren't enough, he toys with Walter over the issue of the donation while they play golf. And if THAT weren't enough, he has half a dozen minions dressed in dark suits and ties and shades and looking like escapees from the Blues Brothers Band acting as caddies. And if THAT weren't enough, Mr. Rush, in his infinite "prick-ness," takes a piss on the golf course.

Yeah, he's a prick all right! Sheesh.

Winning a wager about making a putt, Walter returns to the hospital only to find his favorite patient's test results are back and they're not good. The cute little boy has begged Dr. Chambers not to put him through chemo anymore, but despite his tests showing that chemo will most likely not alter the probable outcome, the boy's parents insist on it.

Okay, I have a problem with this. First off, cancer treatment is unbelievably expensive. Unless you're extremely wealthy, the only way you can afford chemo and hospitalization and all the tests is via a good health insurance. There is no way health insurance will pay for treatment with a doctor's authorization, so how am I supposed to believe that these parents can override their doctor's call?

The reason for that scene and many others was to contrive situations where our four characters are basically having a really crappy day. Robert's long-time girlfriend has finally dumped his cheating ass and won't change her mind even after his remorseful honesty; Patrick tries to meet up with his feckless father, but his Dad gives him the wrong address and he ends up in a bad part of town and gets assaulted by some thugs; Walter has to deal with the prick and the heartless parents of his patient; and Carla Silva (Torres)--well, I'm not quite sure what her bad day was. Seems the filmmaker tried to set something up where the damaged and reticent Carla comes out of her shell cautiously only to have everything smashed before her eyes.

At least I think that's what the whole snail symbolism was about...

When they converge to witness the horrific accident, the hell that they've been through in the hours prior to the incident becomes unleashed. The footage of the accident itself is effectively and nauseatingly graphic--as is the events that follow it. But I never really bought it. Although it's been described as four strangers "bonding" (albeit in the most twisted sense of the word...), it comes off more like a mob mentality. And four people does not a mob make.

The story was inspired by a fatal road rage incident that happened in Chicago in 2003. I've tried researching the specifics of the actual story, but haven't been able to find anything a sensational as Ernst Gossner's take on the situation. The Austrian writer/director/producer is to be commended on several counts: his structural craftsmanship, his multicultural casting and his competent execution of the ultimately flawed story. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of his work in the future!

South of Pico is now available on DVD and can be rented from Netflix or purchased from Amazon.

1 comment:

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