With its flashy, music-video style edits, rock-scored montages and septuagenarian cast, it’s hard to say who, exactly, is the right audience for this unusual comedic drama from director Michael Schroeder.
Cameron Kincaid (Will & Grace’s Michael Angarano) is a trouble-prone L.A. high-school junior who hopes to compete in the Los Angeles Film School’s short film contest to be held at the end of his upcoming Christmas break. The winner will receive a full scholarship to the school, and it’s an opportunity Cameron desperately needs: Cameron dreams of one day becoming a filmmaker, and he doesn’t expect to get much support financial or otherwise from his uncomprehending mother (Mimi Kennedy) or his contemptuous stepfather (Mitch Pileggi). Unlike most aspiring filmmakers his age, Cameron loves old movies and would much rather catch a matinee of a classic Hollywood film at the Beverly Cinema than attend class. It’s at a Beverly screening of A TOUCH OF EVIL that Cameron first encounters Sean “Flash” Madden (Christopher Plummer), an elderly, cantankerous drunk with a permanent scowl on his grizzled face and a pint bottle of Wild Turkey in is pocket. When he chews out a pretentious film professor who dared shush him after Flash justly heckled Charlton “Chuckles” Heston’s Mexican impersonation, Cameron realizes Flash is no ordinary crank. Once upon a time, Flash was a gaffer whose nickname was bestowed upon him by Orson Welles himself while on the set of CITIZEN KANE when he ruined a take with the flash of an arc light. Recognizing a fellow outsider when he sees one, an intrigued Cameron follows Flash’s circuitous route home, stopping first at the animal control center where he watches in anger as society’s other throwaways – unwanted cats and dogs – are sent to their deaths, then finally his residence: the Motion Picture Residence for the Elderly, where long-forgotten names that were once found both above and below the line now quietly fade away in obscurity. Cameron practically begs Flash to help him with his student film – he plans to make some kind of action movie about a man who builds a motorcycle out of vacuum cleaner parts – but Flash only shoos him away with a snarl. Cameron won’t take no for an answer, and after being bribed with cigars and a weekly bottle of booze, Flash relents. Upon hearing Cameron’s story idea, however, he realizes the boy’s in desperate need of a writer and he knows just the man for the job: the legendary Golden Age screenwriter Mickey Hopkins (M. Emmet Walsh). After Cameron sees the horrendous conditions in which Mickey now lives – a squalid nursing home unit filled with rotting food, flies, dead rodents -- and Mickey’s physical decrepitude, Cameron knows he’s found the subject of his short film: elder abuse and nursing home violations. And when it comes to cast and crew, there’s a certain retirement home filled with retirees who’d be tickled to work one last time – if Flash’s chronic drinking doesn’t sabotage the project as it once did his entire career.
Plummer, who’s always had a natural affinity for playing difficult jerks, is in fine form and one wishes the film around him was worthy of his performance. Director Michael Schroeder, who cut his teeth working second unit while helming such films as DEAD ON: RELENTLESS II and CYBORG 2 and CYBOR 3: THE RECYCLER, offers an important reminder about the value of our elderly population and the lost art of classic Hollywood cinema, but couches it a flashy, over-stylized package that Antoine Fuqua himself might find a bit overdone. Older film geeks will bristle at the mere suggestion that films as diverse GONE WITH THE WIND, QUEEN CHRISTINA, BACK STREET, LIFEBOAST and (gasp!) THE OUTLAW and were written by the same person, and a fictional one at that. Others won’t care either way, but one thing’s for certain: No one outside of Peta nuts wants to see footage of what appears to be the actual euthanizing of cats and dogs, footage Schroeder includes for no good reason at all. leave a comment --Ken Fox