Day Zero

2008, Movie, R, 96 mins


Not to be confused with Ben Coccio's ZERO DAY (2003), which examines the events leading up to a Columbine-style school massacre, this shallow, navel-gazing film about three young men coming to terms with the reality of being drafted to fight in Iraq is agonizingly trivial despite strong performances from leads Chris Klein, Elijah Wood and Jon Bernthal.

Set in a near future in which the draft has been reinstated, director Bryan Gunnar Cole and screenwriter Rob Malkani's film follows three friends, all of whom met as students at NYC's elite Stuyvesant public high school, as they deal with the implications of having been drafted. Novelist Aaron Fellner (Wood) is frankly terrified; he's a skinny, neurotic geek who worried that he'll be the first to die because his fellow grunts just won't like him. Between visits to his bored therapist (Ally Sheedy) of seven years, he makes a list of 10 things he wants to do — including pick up a woman at a bar, go to a peepshow and get a tattoo — before reporting for duty, and then he sets about trying to do them all. Privileged George Rifkin (Klein), a sleek corporate lawyer who's just made partner, appeals to his politically connected father to get him out of serving; in addition to his fears of disrupting his career, he's loath to leave his wife (Ginnifer Goodwin, of TV's Big Love), a cancer survivor who just passed the momentous five-year survival mark. James Dixon (Bernthal) is the only one who wants to serve; the smart but damaged product of a violent, fractured family and the guy who always pulled his friends' ashes out of the fire, Dixon believes that 9/11 was a wake-up call to the pampered progeny of 21st-century America: If they value their freedoms, he says, they should be willing to fight and even die for them.

Aimed at post-Vietnam generations who grew up free of the shadow of the selective service, Malkani's simplistic "what if?" screenplay is designed to provoke debate of the shallowest kind: How would you feel if you were drafted? Well, bad, right? After all, no one ever wants to be shipped overseas to kill and/or die. The film's relentless focus on the personal shortchanges the larger issues and ultimately reduces Fellner, Rifkin and Dixon to sociopolitical stereotypes whose troubles don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. And that's a shame, because the actors — especially Klein and Bernthal — deliver startlingly powerful performances as young men suspended between extended adolescence and real adulthood making what may be the most important decision of their lives. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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