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Review: 'American Animal' fails to exploit its wild side

The quirky film about youthful slackers loses its charm when it attempts to be too smart.

June 01, 2012|By Robert Abele
  • A scene from "American Animal."
A scene from "American Animal." (Screen Media Films )

There's an unquestionably confident artsy-ness to writer-director Matt D'Elia's debut feature "American Animal."

D'Elia stars as a terminally ill, hedonistic shut-in named Jimmy whose life philosophy amounts to sitting around, watching TV, getting high and play-acting. He shares a spacious, modern apartment with his best bud and fellow layabout James (Brendan Fletcher), and when two attractive female friends, both named Angela (Mircea Monroe and Angela Sarafyan), come over, there's a lot of casual talk, sex, drug use and enduring Jimmy's costume-changing, language-inventing eccentricities.

At first "American Animal" has a mysterious unreality to it, a strange diorama about easy leisure's emptiness. But when James admits he's taken a job — upending the roomies' slacker utopia — "American Animal" becomes a philosophically strident evening of speechifying local theater (topic: human evolution). Suddenly Jimmy isn't a cartoony loon anymore, but a Big Idea in Monologue Form.

Until then, dynamo hyphenate D'Elia's shtick and over-the-top theatricality carried a kind of amateurish performance-art charm. Too bad D'Elia felt the need to explain it all for us.

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"American Animal." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.

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