Monday, April 25, 2011

#TribecaFest Review: "Puncture"

If Puncture were a book, it’d be a beach read—junk, basically, but really hard to put down. It’s not intellectually stimulating, but it moves, popping through its well-worn narrative with style and efficiency. It’s a Civil Action/Erin Brockovich-style based-on-a-true-story backroom legal drama, and like those films, it primarily separates itself from the countless TV movies in the same mold thanks to the efforts of a powerful star performance. In this case, that performance is by Chris Evans. I’m as surprised as you are.

On second thought, perhaps I’m not—this is an actor who, after several dull-as-toast pretty boy roles, has finally started to define himself on screen by fine-turning his comic sensibility. His hip, loose turn was the best thing in The Losers (admittedly, not much of a contest), and his half-whispered appearance in Scott Pilgrim was a bright, goofy lark.

As brilliant lawyer and highly functional drug addict Mike Weiss, Evans concocts a wired, cranked-up performance, equal parts bullshit bravado and utter sincerity, and there’s a mad, improvisatory energy to it—you can see him thinking, working the angles, and enjoying his character’s hedonistic nature. It’s a take-no-prisoners piece of work; it’s got a grimy kick, it’s so trashy and funny (we’re so in tune with the character by the midway point that he gets a laugh by clicking his pen and saying, simply, “sure”). And though he only lets us glimpse the character’s darkness, we see enough to know there’s more where that came from.

The film that surrounds him is, alas, not quite as unpredictable. Chris Lopata’s dialogue is a little clangy, and the construction of the story is fairly obvious—he lets the seams show too often. I get that we have to be made aware of the stakes, but there are far too many scenes of his partner lecturing him about how they have to drop this case because they’re running out of money. That’s a pretty thankless role; perhaps realizing that, co-director Mark Kassen plays it himself. (His brother Adam directed with him.) Subplots pop up that don’t go anywhere; in several scenes, we see Mike being followed when he’s out doing dirt, and when he’s apparently taped buying drugs, we keep waiting for the key moment when that tape is used to blackmail him. But that never happens; those scenes are apparently just free-floating paranoia.

Michael Biehn does a nice piece of cranky-old-coot acting as their client, while Brett Cullen is wonderfully, palpably oily as the corporate lawyer on the other side of their big case. Kate Burton is not an actor I was previously aware of, but she has one scene, maybe a dozen lines, and just wrecks shop with them. The Kassen brothers direct in an indistinct but fluid style; the film feels like a calling card for bigger Hollywood efforts, and should fill that function nicely. Puncture is a sturdy piece of professional filmmaking—and it would be pretty forgettable save for Evans, who tears through the picture like a whirling dervish.

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