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MOVIE REVIEW

'Staccato' Gives Unique Spin to a Coming-of-Age Tale

September 26, 1997|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Luis M. Meza's "Staccato Purr of the Exhaust" announces a knock-your-socks-off newcomer in its writer-director-producer, who has come up with a take on the pains of growing up that is as original and distinctive as his film's title.

Ron Garcia plays Leonard, an ultra-quiet young man who works at a print shop, still lives at home in Highland Park in a fine old Craftsman cottage with his parents (Julia Vera, Roman Jerzy), immerses himself deeply in music and gets beat up on by his painter girlfriend Lily (Michelle Beauchamp), for whom his steadfast passiveness seems a turn-on.

Maybe Leonard's parents have had talks with him about it being time for him to move out; maybe not, since they're such sullen types. In any case, the parents start selling Leonard's possessions off as a way of building a fire under him. Only when his father tries to sell his son's beloved early-'70s Chevelle with moon hubcaps does Leonard finally explode. What happens next is too gloriously unexpected to be revealed.

"Staccato" is very funny and very sad. It rings true as Leonard realizes that he's got to come to terms with a group of people he clearly thought he had written off. But Meza suggests that maybe there are truths about people beyond the obvious negative ones. He's saying that even if the people in our lives aren't so hot, they still need to be dealt with, even if--especially if--you intend to move beyond them.

What makes "Staccato" such fun is Meza's ability to express such four-square feelings in such a hip way. Leonard's poker-face solemnity is a comic foil to the absurdity threatening to engulf him. His parents are so unswervingly stolid, his girlfriend so erratic and his purported "best friend" Steve (Dennis Brooks) such a colossal self-important jerk that invariably dark humor flourishes in Leonard's every encounter with them.

Meza can get away with imposing a resolutely measured rhythm on his film that is just right for the sensibility of his beleaguered hero. Unerring in his instincts, he can sustain a pause way beyond most filmmakers.

But he isn't just spinning a tale. He's expressing a vision of the universe that perceives its abiding outrageousness--and at the same time allowing for the possibility of a little magic realism here and there.

He's lucky to have come up with actors, a cinematographer (Nick Rivera) and a composer (David Hamma) to give him crucial help in realizing this vision. Hamma and his band, the Burning Sofa no. 10, and their quietly insistent music do in fact, as Meza says in his film's production notes, give "Staccato Purr of the Exhaust" "an indispensable texture that defines the dream-like space of the film."

* Unrated. Times guidelines: It includes some blunt language.

'Staccato Purr of the Exhaust'

Ron Garcia: Leonard

Michelle Beauchamp: Lily

Dennis Brooks: Steve Valenzuela

Julia Vera: Mother

Roman Jerzy Father

Kristina Haddad: Gabriela

Leslie Newton: Jane

A skunkboy ink/muscle-plus-hate industries presentation with the collusion of AV Media-Bedlam-Areolis Pictures. Writer-producer-director Luis M. Meza. Cinematographer Nick Rivera. Editor Marian Rooney. Costume consultant Patrick Rotheneiger. Music David Hamma and the Burning Sofa no. 10. Art directors Fon Chen, Irina Rivera, Christy Schnabel, Victoria Van Laanen, Mark Miremont. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

*

* Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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