Gangland violence shreds a community and shatters a family in "Splinter," the feature debut of Michael D. Olmos. Despite some imaginative elements and a knockout performance by Tom Sizemore, "Splinter" feels very much like a first effort. With its recycled themes and muddled storyline generating a cascade of unanswered questions, the film is more about style than substance.
One of its stylistic triumphs, however, is an opening title sequence that in itself almost makes the film worth watching. In a dazzling graphic montage (credited to Jamieson Fry and Danijel Zerelj) set to a pulsating synthesizer, pop-up anime meets 3-D. Fleetingly introducing key characters and settings, the sequence maps out the gang activity in two fictitious L.A. neighborhoods, culminating in a point-blank murder and a blast of blood to the camera.
After a drive-by shooting that leaves him gravely wounded and his brother Shaggy dead, Joey "Dreamer" Gonzalez (Enrique Almeida) struggles to resume his life.
When his brother Dusty (Noel Gugliemi) suggests they avenge Shaggy's death, the pair set out to find the killer, presumably a member of a rival gang.
The violence begins to escalate, and with it the body count.
Assigned to solve the killings is Sizemore's John Cunnningham, a veteran cop with an explosive streak and a taste for whiskey and lowlife bars. He's teamed with a rookie, Det. Graham (Resmine Atis), newly transferred from Chicago, where she blew the whistle on another cop.
Cunningham, whose crime-solving methods place him in the tradition of rogue L.A. cops such as "The Shield's" Vic Mackey and "Training Day's" Alonzo Harris, is clearly an outsider in his department. Graham thinks she can set him straight. But whereas Ethan Hawke's nerve-stricken Hoyt provided a perfect foil to Denzel Washington's trigger-happy Harris in "Training Day," Atis is too much of a lightweight to counterbalance an actor as powerful as Sizemore. (Sizemore in recent years has seen his acting career overshadowed by drug and legal issues. In this performance he seems to embrace every bad thing ever written about him.)
As both Graham and Dreamer's imaginations flash to similar images of an unspecified torture scene (in "Memento"-style instantaneous bursts), it's unclear whether the cop herself might be somehow implicated in the events. When the real killer is at last revealed, you'll be asking a lot of questions. But unlike "Memento," you won't go back for a repeat viewing.
"Splinter." MPAA rating: R for strong violence, language and some drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At the Mann Plant 16, Van Nuys, (818) 779-0323; AMC 30, Covina, (626) 974-8600; AMC Ontario Mills 30, Ontario, (310) 289-4262).