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Movie Reviews: Badland, Divine Intervention, Forfeit, He Was a Quiet Man 

Also: The Sasquatch Gang, Sex and Breakfast, Yiddish Theater: A Love Story

Wednesday, Nov 28 2007
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AWAKE A medical thriller with a noggin full of novocaine, this shocker about botched heart surgery evidently suffered brain surgery to match. Think of writer-director Joby Harold’s autopsy-turvy tale as The Death of Mr. Lazarescu with a high-concept lobotomy: instead of some wheezy old Romanian dude descending the lower-depths of health-care hell, we get doe-eyed Hayden Christensen as the world’s most naïve billionaire and unlikely heart-transplant candidate, whose troubles begin when “anesthesia awareness” leaves him conscious but paralyzed and unable to scream as doc Terrence Howard revs up the ol’ bonesaw. That would be contrivance enough for most thrillers, but factor in blushing bride Jessica Alba, suspicious mom Lena Olin, and sinister cardio czar Arliss Howard — not to mention astral projection, supernatural visits, repressed memories, and not one but two pivotal heart transplants — and you’ve got a movie that sucks more than it inhales. Harold’s glum overplotting squashes the sick humor and the innate fear of hospitals that gives the premise what kick it has; not even Craig McKay’s clever editing can defibrillate the preposterous ending. Even at 78 minutes, though, this definitely communicates a sense of anesthesia awareness — at least to your ass. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

BADLAND Barely a ripple in this year’s wave of Iraq war–veteran dramas, writer-director Francesco Lucente’s overconfident, emotionally forced 160-minute opus offers trite antiwar platitudes — at best — in chronicling the anguished existence of a soldier who can’t shake the horrors he experienced in Fallujah. After being framed for theft at work, and then discovering that his trailer-trash wife has been stealing from him, disgraced Marine reservist Jerry (Jamie Draven) snaps, shooting the spouse and his two young sons before stopping just shy of killing his daughter and himself. Now experiencing her own PTSD, precious little Celina (Grace Fulton) has put all her stock in God to bring back Mommy as the two go on the lam and settle in a fresh town. Incessantly scored with the most lachrymose flourishes, and shot almost entirely during magic hour, Badland practically begs “For Your Consideration.” Big Statements come in bursts — from a TV news reporter offering an out-of-left-field lesson on the My Lai massacre, to a drunken monologue by Joe Morton’s traumatized veteran turned sheriff. What sticks in the memory, though, is the ending: a cheap shot as shameful as Redacted’s, and, if you can believe it, even less nuanced. (Sunset 5) (Aaron Hillis)

DIVINE INTERVENTION Cocky young Reverend Robert Gibbs (Wesley Jonathan) has just been tapped to fill in as pastor for a black South Los Angeles Baptist church while Reverend Matthews (James Avery), the church’s longtime patriarch, recovers from a stroke. With his affinity for hip-hop culture and penchant for welcoming homosexuals and gang members into the congregation, Gibbs runs afoul of the church’s conservative board of deacons, then raises even more eyebrows when he starts wooing lovely Divine (Jazsmin Lewis), the minister’s daughter. Structurally, writer-director Van Elder’s spiritual romantic comedy resembles one of those inspirational-teacher dramas where the preternaturally confident outsider eventually wins over the naysayers with his unconventional methods. Though meagerly plotted and devoid of narrative surprise, the micro-budgeted Divine Intervention cuts slightly deeper than your typical Hollywood rom-com because of its willingness to address real problems confronting the African-American community: drugs and gangs; the battle between spiritual and secular urges; the struggle over the future of the fundamentalist Baptist movement. But Elder and his weightless cast merely brush up against these thoughtful topics, simplifying the issues so they can be cheerily resolved with unconvincing “trust in Jesus” banalities. As for the family-friendly love story between Gibbs and Divine, like so much of Divine Intervention, its aggressively vanilla tone unintentionally makes a strong argument for the hedonistic lifestyle. (Grande 4-Plex) (Tim Grierson)

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THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY See film feature

FORFEIT Despite his good looks, actor Billy Burke carries in his eyes the look of a perpetually guilty man. Onscreen, he specializes in playing men who’ve done somebody wrong but who feel guilty about it. This sense of unceasing inner turmoil brought a much-needed rough edge to the recent Feast of Love, and also buoys the smaller-scale Forfeit. Here, Burke plays Frank O’Neal, a guard at one of movie history’s least-convincing armored-car companies, a place owned and operated by thieves and near-bums, all of whom seem blind to the fact that Frank’s planning a heist. The heist isn’t merely a heist, but part of a revenge scheme meant to land Frank’s high-school sweetheart (Sherry Stringfield) in jail for murder — a scenario screenwriter John Rafter Lee, who appears to have read more Flannery O’Connor than Elmore Leonard, complicates even further by having Frank become obsessed with a ranting TV preacher (Gregory Itzin). Director Andrew Brendan Shea can’t seem to decide if he’s making a thriller, a boozy blue-collar melodrama or a religious parable. Forfeit ends up as a muddled mix of all three, but we keep watching, if only because Burke manages to make his character’s confusion weirdly resonant. (Sunset 5) (Chuck Wilson)

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