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There's not much to this evil plot

October 31, 2008|Robert Abele, Mark Olsen and Gary Goldstein

Since film noir's shadowy dread reflected a genuine post-World War II existential unease, it makes some sense that a movie about post-9/11 conspiracy theorists would boast a faux-noir style, as if the term had quotation marks around it.

But "Able Danger" -- a convoluted "Maltese Falcon" redux about a paranoid coffee shop owner named Thomas (Adam Nee) whose radical writings attract a European femme fatale (Elina Lowensohn), a body pileup and a rash of hokey German-accented characters -- wants to be both a filmic put-on and a politically aware put-off, and winds up neither.

What everyone's after in screenwriter Paul Krik's scenario is an encrypted hard drive pertaining to the titular program, a real-life Pentagon data-mining project that fervid dot-connectors believe links the CIA to 9/11. Whether Krik believes as Thomas does that Mohammed Atta was a government patsy feels beside the point, yet there's little oomph in turning a Holy Grail of conspiracy mongers into just another movie MacGuffin.

Lowensohn's deadpan retro allure brings chiaroscuro authenticity to this exercise in monochrome digital video, but "Able Danger" is too removed from either parodic flair or activist intensity to be the stuff of which nightmares are made.

-- Robert Abele

"Able Danger." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. Exclusively at the Laemmle's Grande 4-plex, 345 S. Figueroa St., (213) 617-0268.


A most unsettling 'Dark' anthology

Under the stewardship of artistic director Etienne Robial, the French-made anthology "Fear(s) of the Dark," a collection of animated black-and-white shorts with only suspense and the fantastic as connectors, handily avoids most of the usual pitfalls of the anthology film and makes for a series of chilling, unsettling experiences in miniature.

In the short by cartoonist Charles Burns, a shy young man with an interest in science, lands a girlfriend and unleashes the underlying fear of every lonely boy, that the only thing more unsettling than not having a girl just might be having one.

The Burns section is perhaps the most accessible simply because it has the most straightforward narrative. In the film's final segment, it is remarkable how often the screen is simply black and blank, and yet writer-director Richard McGuire is able to hold a feeling of heightened anxiety until images of graphic white flare across the frame.

None of the segments are really interested in jump/scare/slasher horror, but rather the slow, creeping terror of feeling something is wrong and something worse is coming, making the film a most frightful Halloween aperitif.

-- Mark Olsen

"Fear(s) of the Dark." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223.


'Just Buried' puts 'fun' in funeral

The shrewdly titled Canadian comedy "Just Buried" has more mainstream appeal than its single-screen, midnight-only booking might suggest. Cleverly written and competently directed by Chaz Thorne, this distant cousin to TV's "Six Feet Under" takes its viable, high-concept premise in some twisty directions, offering a host of darkly amusing moments along the way.

Jay Baruchel stars as a rudderless, nosebleed-prone geek named Oliver who inherits a funeral home from his estranged father only to discover that it's nearly bankrupt. Abetted by the mortuary's pretty embalmer Roberta (Rose Byrne), the reluctant Oliver accidentally, then not-so-accidentally, ends up knocking off a string of troublesome townsfolk, drumming up much-needed new business as the bodies mount.

The fact that Roberta is also the county coroner as well as the daughter of the local police chief (this is a very small town) is a convenient bonus that protects the increasingly game and sexually busy Oliver -- until it doesn't.

Along with Baruchel's enjoyably unnerved performance, the movie features a host of fun supporting turns, especially from "Dances With Wolves' " Graham Greene as the funeral parlor's droll caretaker.

-- Gary Goldstein

"Just Buried." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.


Sideshow isn't worth the money

Although the lyrics to Smokey Robinson's "The Tears of a Clown" might course through your brain if you're unfortunate enough to stumble into the tediously oddball "Little Big Top," by the film's end you'll likely segue into Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" That's because writer-director Ward Roberts, who never finds a satisfying way to put us in the head -- or the heart -- of cranky, alcoholic ex-circus clown Seymour Smiles (cult film favorite Sid Haig), crashes through this brief movie's third act and fades out with almost punishing abruptness.

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