Written and directed by its 24-year-old star, Monty Lapica, this well-intentioned but routine drama explores the lives of a troubled Las Vegas teenager and his exhausted mother, a widow who can no longer cope with her son's destructive behavior.
Two years after his beloved father's death, 17-year-old Andrew Eriksen (Lapica) is still having trouble coping. A smart kid who seems to know all the answers in class, Andrew's truancy, drug use and general bad attitude have gotten him kicked out of private school, and his grade point average has plummeted from 4.0 to 1.6 in record time. Andrew has also been to juvenile court for hitting a security guard with brass knuckles, and his latest exploit shooting pedestrians on the Vegas Strip with a paint gun has gotten him arrested again. Andrew's mother, Louise (Diane Venora), knows her son is out of control. But Louise has her own unacknowledged substance-abuse problem prescription drugs so Andrew just calls her a hypocrite whenever she tries to assert control. At her wits' end, Louise has Andrew forcibly placed in the care of the Brightway Adolescent Hospital. Snatched from his bed in the middle of the night, Andrew is taken to St. George, Utah, disinfected, fully searched and thrown in with other seriously troubled kids for evaluation. Their ultimate destination will be Brightway's facility in Western Samoa. In the meantime, every move is monitored and the rules are strict using profanity, failing room inspection and general noncompliance get residents time in "the pit," while attempting to escape results in loss of clothing privileges. And one by one, Andrew breaks every rule before finally attempting to escape.
Lapica opens with the announcement that the story is based on true events and closes with the statement that the real-life Brightway facility in Western Samoa was shut down after an investigation into allegations of abuse. Since Andrew never makes it to Samoa, this bit of information is irrelevant, and it comes as something of a surprise that Lapica's depiction of Brightway is meant to be so negative. While administered by a temperamental head counselor (Michael Bowen) who uses questionable disciplinary techniques, it's hardly the snake pit featured in the similarly themed indie OVER THE GW (2007), and Andrew's counselor (Greg Germann) actually seems to care. The problem appears to be entirely with Andrew's immaturity, which is inadvertently compounded by Lapica's casting himself in the lead; looking considerably older than 17, his troubled-teen act comes off as a lot less sympathetic than it's meant to be. There are nice touches, particularly in Venora's performance and Timothy Kendall's editing, but the film's maudlin edge illustrates the dangers of directing your own material: There's no one on hand to tell you when what you think is "just enough" is actually way too much. leave a comment --Ken Fox