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'Mentor's' credibility flunks test

October 04, 2008|Robert Abele

In the academic melodrama "Mentor," the expectation of brawny rogue Rutger Hauer bringing a manipulative and sybaritic old literary icon to life withers under a focus on the flaccid coupling of two of Hauer's fawning pet students. We're first introduced to Carter Baines (Matt Davis) as a disillusioned professor recalling his stormy college days, which began when Carter was a wannabe writer enamored with his celebrated fiction prof Sanford Pollard (Hauer) and attracted to Pollard's sexy graduate assistant-girlfriend, Julia (Dagmara Dominczyk). The threesome's snobby clique goes south when Pollard's experience-first ethos leads his charges into an unprepared-for affair. But then screenwriter William Whitehurst and director David Langlitz wrongheadedly assume resolving Carter and Julia's shrug-worthy relationship is what's interesting, when the actors barely spark as lovers.

It's hard enough for movies to convey what authors do (beyond having them utter erudite insults), but Davis and Dominczyk tell formative childhood memories like acting-class monologuists, not writers going over copy. Only Hauer has the lived-in arrogance to suggest a bruising person of letters, but the limply shot "Mentor" relegates him to also-ran status as it moves from Philip Roth-ian promise to Nicholas Sparks-level tedium.

-- Robert Abele

"Mentor." MPAA rating: R for language and theme. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Laemmle's Grande 4-Plex, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown L.A., (213) 617-0268.

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'Violent Kind' is kind of a mess

A garish splatter of avant-garde pretentiousness, the no-budget "The Violent Kind" aims to scare us into a grim understanding of the psychologically disturbed war vet but mostly spurs thoughts of escape from its film-school-arty oppressiveness. Kirk Harris plays a U.S. soldier who's back from Iraq but hasn't exactly landed on the shores of sanity yet. (Writer-director Geoffrey Pepos names him Terry Malloy, which was Brando's character in "On the Waterfront," signaling a woefully unmet confidence in his lead's ability to reach Method greatness.) Terry was inspired to enlist by his Vietnam vet dad (John Savage, helping unravel his "Deer Hunter" cred), who now mostly waves a gun around and, in a predictable touch, mistakes an Asian delivery boy for the enemy.

Hoping to reconnect, Terry's concerned wife, Jesika (Irina Bjorklund), joins this broken duo on a trip to the family cabin, but, really, has any woodsy excursion with damaged, brutal, hair-trigger men gone well?

Pepos exhibits his own derangement in trying to channel dark-hearted surrealists such as Nicolas Roeg and David Lynch, but his sloppy visuals, storytelling and jump-cutting make the whole incomprehensible, waiting-for-the-slaughter exercise seem less like a non-linear nightmare than the result of a stuck fast-forward button.

This country's battle-scarred troops not only deserve better medical treatment but also better movies highlighting their condition.

-- R.A.

"The Violent Kind." MPAA rating: unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. Laemmle's Grande 4-Plex, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown L.A., (213) 617-0268.

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