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MOVIE REVIEW : Do-Gooder's Dilemma in 'The Giving'

December 17, 1992|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alternately arty and preachy, Eames Demetrios' "The Giving" (at the Sunset 5) is an ambitious, increasingly surreal odyssey of a successful young computer whiz (Kevin Kildow) who becomes obsessed with sacrificing himself for the good of Los Angeles' homeless.

Visually, the film is superb, thanks to Antonio Soriano's breathtakingly beautiful black-and-white cinematography, and there's an equally fine, moody score by Stephen James Taylor. However, all too frequently Demetrios undercuts the unique vision he strives to create with pretentious verbiage to the extent that "The Giving" plays like a rich kid's guilt trip. (Demetrios is the grandson of famed designers Charles and Ray Eames; his executive producer Tim Disney is the grand-nephew of Walt).

Demetrios cannot be accused of taking the easy way out at any turn: Kildow's Jeremiah Pollock is creepy from the get-go and grows only weirder. Impulsively, Pollock donates $10,000 to a Skid Row soup kitchen while at a black-tie charity banquet only to find he cannot, at the end of the evening, resist driving through the industrial area of downtown where so many live on its streets. He arrives just in time to see cops turn fire hoses on an encampment and flees, only to return and receive the contempt of its leader Gregor (Lee Hampton).

Gregor, who dreams of establishing a farm right near Skid Row so that the homeless can feed themselves, alas, is so bombastic and self-righteous that he's no more sympathetic than Jeremiah. At any rate, in a flash Jeremiah sees his destiny: to start fasting and to give to the homeless till he's "given out," which ultimately involves an ingenious scam to shower the needy with money. There's something obscene in Jeremiah's ecstatic, all-consuming lust for martyrdom.

Demetrios employs lots of stream-of-conscious monologues in which key characters--but mainly Jeremiah--bombard us at length with their largely insufferable ramblings. He also creates images of nature reclaiming urban wastelands--a far more effective device--and presents opportunities for the actual homeless to act and/or recite their writings. To put it bluntly, living in the streets does not automatically make people talented as either actors or poets.

Demetrios is accurate in his portrayal of just how difficult it can be for do-gooders and the needy to connect. He's right to stress that giving money is infinitely easier than to give of yourself--that it can be no small thing for the affluent even to be capable of recognizing the humanity of the needy.

Yet there are plenty of organizations that know how to put money to good use, but that's probably too prosaic for Demetrios, with his "filthy lucre" attitude toward cash, to acknowledge. Indeed, the one moment in the film that rings really true is when the operator of the soup kitchen says he can use Jeremiah's $10,000, telling Gregor, who's ranting and raving at Jeremiah, to calm down. Like Jeremiah, "The Giving" (Times-rated Mature for complicated style and themes) means well but ends up being merely extravagantly self-indulgent.

'The Giving'

Kevin Kildow: Jeremiah Pollock

Lee Hampton: Gregor

Stephen Hornyak: Gale

Paul Boesing: The Boss

A Northern Arts Entertainment release. Writer-director Eames Demetrios. Producers Tim Disney, Cevin Cathell, Eames Demetrios. Executive producer Tim Disney. Cinematographer Antonio Soriano. Editors Bruce Barrow, Nancy Richardson. Music Stephen James Taylor. Production designers Diane Romine Clard, Lee Shane. Sound Jerry Wolfe. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Times-rated: Mature (complicated style and themes).

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