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Taking the humor out of the absurd

March 25, 2005|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Tim McCann's "Nowhere Man" goes nowhere as a movie, just like its antihero. It is a grimly serious business in the gritty, low-budget New York independent style, but its straight-face approach is at increasing odds with the escalating luridness of its material. The bleak absurdity of its predicaments cries out for a tone of pitch-dark comedy to stave off the unintended laughter that it is virtually certain to elicit.

In a performance of relentless intensity, Michael Rodrick is Conrad, a rugged, clean-cut blue-collar type in his 30s who presents an engagement ring to his sultry live-in girlfriend, Jennifer (Debbie Rochon), who reacts ecstatically -- but not for long. Someone drops a video at Conrad's front door; he pops it into his VCR and discovers that it is a porn flick starring Jennifer and a black actor whose fame is summed up in his moniker, Daddy Mac (Frank Olivier, a former corrections officer turned porn star). Conrad goes berserk, Jennifer wants to talk it out, and what's more she refuses to listen when he tells her to get out.

Conrad is a rigid, unforgiving man, but he does pay the rent and has expressed his wishes in no uncertain terms. Can't she see the man is dangerously consumed with rage? Her refusal to take his orders seriously has predictably disastrous consequences for her and in turn results in even worse results for him. There is now precious little sympathy for either of them.

It is at this point that McCann needed to take a step back and figure out where he wanted to go with his story and what he hoped audiences would make of it. Instead he holds on to his tight, up-close perspective and, worse yet, comes up with such an unlikely person to have dropped off the video that it would have been better to leave his or her identity unknown.

In any event, "Nowhere Man" slides into contrivance and narrows Conrad's violent response to the porn video as an instance of a white man being intimidated by a black man's mythological superior sexual prowess. What about Conrad's strong moralistic views? Surely they play a key role in his reaction to Jennifer's participation in the video, regardless of the race of her sex partner. McCann also doesn't know when to stop, tacking on a wan, unconvincing coda set a year in the future. And as for adult videos, the not entirely dissimilar "John Wayne Bobbitt Uncut" was lots more fun than "Nowhere Man."


'Nowhere Man'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Extreme violence, including sexual brutality, also nudity and language

Michael Rodrick...Conrad

Debbie Rochon...Jennifer

Frank Olivier... Daddy Mac

Lloyd Kaufman...Dr. Johnson

Michael Risley...Speed

A First Run Features release of a King Cobra Films production in association with Open Films. Writer-director Tim McCann. Producers Lawrence O'Neil, Mark Tchelistcheff. Executive producer Adolfo Vargas. Music Rob Strait, Drew Styles. Costumes Nives Spaleta. Production designer Laura Hyman.

Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd. (at Fairfax Ave.), (323) 655-4010.

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