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'Self-Medicated' is a hard pill to swallow

August 31, 2007|Michael OrdoƱa | Special to The Times

"Self-Medicated" must have been cathartic for writer-director-producer-star Monty Lapica to make, but its therapeutic value for audiences is questionable.

Reportedly based on Lapica's experience as a privileged but delinquent teen committed to a rehab boot camp, the ambitious first-filmmaking effort boasts a host of awards from the festival circuit. That acclaim, however, like the many moments of unearned emotion in the film (plumped by a melodramatic score), seems overblown.

Lapica plays Andrew, a 17-year-old former A student in Las Vegas whose father's death has sent him into a spiral of drug use and violence. Unable to cope with Andrew's deterioration, his mother has him taken by force to a private hospital that turns out to specialize more in punishment than cure. The 2005 film's central question, explored meanderingly, is whether Andrew needs such treatment or can heal himself.

The then-24-year-old Lapica -- who looks far too old for high school -- might be wearing too many hats; his performance lacks the modulation that would make his journey convincing. His script doesn't achieve its apparent aim of exposing abuses at some private rehab institutions. Apart from comically over-aggressive behavior by one counselor, the treatment Andrew receives hardly resembles the "hell" he describes. In fact, the punishments seem downright mild, considering the extremes of Andrew's behavior -- not to mention his insufferable, self-pitying brattiness. An experienced external eye might have done much to fix such problems.

The characters are drawn broadly: Despite being played by the talented Diane Venora ("Heat"), Andrew's mom is a generically pill-addled mess. Female friend Nicole (the charming Kristina Anapau of "Cursed") is uncomplicatedly angelic. And the hospital's lead counselor (Michael Bowen, "Kill Bill Vol. 1," TV's "Lost") is a seething, incompetent boob. He's Nurse Ratched as impersonated by R. Lee Ermey. Repeated attempts are made to establish Andrew as a juvie genius (Lapica graduated magna cum laude from Loyola Marymount in only three years), but "Good Will Hunting" this is not.

"Self-Medicated" is not loathsome or lurid, just one-sided and in need of guidance -- ironically so, because that's what its protagonist so steadfastly refuses to accept. The movie's lack of nuance is balanced by its good intentions. It's possible the film will be of comfort to some -- it won a PRISM Film Festival Award for its accurate depiction of drug and alcohol abuse -- but to others it will skirt the boundaries of After-School Special Land.


"Self-Medicated." MPAA rating: R for substance abuse, language and some sexual material. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes. At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741.

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