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Reasonable doubts about 'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt'

Also: 'Ink,' 'Loren Cass,' 'White on Rice'

September 11, 2009|Robert Abele; Gary Goldstein; Kevin Thomas

The production notes for this remake of Fritz Lang's 1956 thriller "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" -- about the pickle a reporter gets in when he frames himself for murder to expose an evidence-tampering DA -- describe writer-director Peter Hyams' movie with the demographic-hopeful label "youthful noir." (Doesn't it sound like a hair color?) That's because middle-aged Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine are now cocky pretty boy Jesse Metcalfe (updated to be the on-air type of reporter), and teenage-forever Amber Tamblyn as his skeptical-then-supportive love interest.

But the leads can't lend either spunk or gravitas to what was already a preposterous yarn 50 years ago, and Hyams -- a genre-hopper who once lent journeyman verve to a redo of the B-movie suspense flick "Narrow Margin" -- seems thoroughly disinterested in finessing shopworn movie cliches or hiding the twist ending from early detection. Only Michael Douglas comes to life, making the targeted prosecutor a classically oily antagonist. But really, how much trust can you put in a movie when its crusader hero routinely promises a colleague (Joel David Moore) that his big idea will win him a Pulitzer -- when they don't give Pulitzers for broadcast journalism?

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Robert Abele --

"Beyond a Reasonable Doubt." MPAA rating: PG-13 for a sex scene, violence and brief strong language. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. At Mann's Chinese 6 AMC Broadway 4 in Santa Monica, AMC Burbank 8.

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DIY fantasy from a promising talent

The cinematic influences are almost too numerous to mention in the assured action fantasy "Ink," including Terry Gilliam and Guillermo del Toro, with liberal helpings of David Lynch and the Wachowski brothers. But they rarely detract from the fact that Denver-based writer-director Jamin Winans can whip up confidently atmospheric visuals on a tiny budget.

The storybook-style premise sets up opposing otherwordly forces that battle (literally at times using martial arts) for the chance to invade our sleeping selves with subconscious bliss or debilitating anxiety. The title is the name of one of the nightmare monsters, a brooding hulk in rags who, in an alternately eerie and exciting sequence, kidnaps an 8-year-old girl (Quinn Hunchar), which in the real world manifests itself as a life-threatening coma.

It's left to a sweet-dreams team of "storytellers" -- a youthful band who unfortunately look like music-video day players -- to find the girl's hard-bitten, estranged father (Chris Kelly) and win back his soul to save her. Winans' allegorical twists won't surprise any fantasy die-hards, and dialogue isn't his strong suit, but there's a rapacious DIY showmanship at work here reminiscent of the calling-card chutzpah Robert Rodriguez and Peter Jackson showed in scrappier, pre-blockbuster days.

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Robert Abele --

"Ink." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. At Laemmle Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

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Scattershot experimentation

Young filmmaker Chris Fuller, reportedly just 15 when he first wrote -- and 21 when he directed -- the deeply nihilistic "Loren Cass," seems so consumed with upending the conventions of sound, editing and narrative that his eccentric, fragmented style becomes far more distancing than absorbing. Fuller takes a serious stab at something unique and challenging here, but his efforts never congeal into the kind of captivating statement he was clearly after (the film's apparent success on the 2007 festival circuit notwithstanding).

Set in a dreary St. Petersburg, Fla., a year after the city's actual 1996 race riots, the film plunks us into the dead-end lives of three working-class teens: volatile skinhead Jason (Travis Maynard), his mechanic buddy Cale (Fuller, billed as "Lewis Brogan") and promiscuous waitress Nicole (Kayla Tabish). Their disaffectedness, coupled with frustratingly minimal dialogue, makes for a decidedly uninvolving screen trio.

The action is random and curious: Nicole hooks up with a string of townies (including Cale), Jason and Cale hang out, blacks and whites rumble, disenfranchised kids hurl f-bombs at a cop, much alcohol is consumed, Jason carves "Loren Cass" into his arm (it's the title's only mention). Meanwhile, disembodied voices spout amorphous poetry and social diatribes. The screen goes blank a lot.

It's tedious, dispiriting stuff.

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Gary Goldstein --

"Loren Cass." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

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Buffoonery, and not in a good way

It's revealing that writer-director Dave Boyle has said that in a way he fulfilled his lifelong ambition to be a cartoonist with the live-action "White on Rice" because his people in this wan, trite and increasingly silly comedy are little more than stick figures.

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