by David Cornelius
“Rx” is a movie split in two. What begins as an intriguing, intimate, even surprising drama turns midway into a lousy, hackneyed, too-hip-for-its-own-good drug dealer thriller.It’s worth noting that the split in quality occurs right around the time Colin Hanks disappears from the picture. Not only is he the film’s only truly interesting character, but Hanks provides the film’s best performance. The young star builds something special here, taking a simple character and fleshing him out in all the right ways, expanding on the work of the screenplay by making us feel that he is genuine.
"A mediocre 'Maria Full of Grace' for the direct-to-video set."
Most of the first half of the movie has this feeling of gentle reality. We begin at the end of a long night of partying for Jonny (Hanks), Andrew (Eric Balfour), and Andrew’s girlfriend Melissa (Lauren German); as they return home, their banter, riddled with inside jokes and a sense of connectedness, tells us that these friends have known each other for a long time, providing them with a character history often overlooked in movies. Later, the script (from Ariel Vromen, who also directed, and Morgan Land) includes small touches of simple reality - Melissa walks in on Andrew while he’s in the bathroom; the trio talk about the best taco they’ve ever had. The actual plot, which finds our characters heading into Mexico to buy drugs, seems incidental, as the movie is more concerned with people than it is with what those people do.
Then we arrive at the drug dealer’s house, and things start to go amiss. The dealer (the always brilliant Alan Tudyk, sadly stuck in a mediocre role) is a swishy slickster; at his side is a gay German (Ori Pfeffer) who talks in strings of comical nonsense. These are not people, they are movie characters, signs of a screenplay desperate to be quirky.
It’s a bad choice, but for a while, the movie survives it, as its focus is still on Jonny and Andrew, who get involved in a drug mule scheme involving $2,000 worth of pills. There is tension as the boys approach the border, and Vromen and Land make some daring choices in their writing, choices I will not reveal here. There is a bold, somber authenticity to these moments, and Hanks’ impact - his loser’s swagger is electric, and we never doubt his character - is powerful enough to hold us over in the handful of scenes following his exit from the picture, an exit which leaves the second half all about Andrew and Melissa.
While Balfour and German provide decent performances, the film can’t last without Hanks’ performance and the charge his character gave the story, and so the screenplay quickly spirals downward. We grow increasingly disinterested in Andrew and Melissa’s plight, which mainly involves them yelling at each other in between long fits of brooding. One character introduced early in the film makes an all-too-convenient return near the end, revealing him to be nothing but a sloppy plot device. The drug dealer’s demand that Andrew and Melissa must attend a costume party if they want his help is off the mark in ten different ways. And the finale comes off as grim for grim’s sake.One wonders how “Rx” (released internationally under the equally generic title “Simple Lies”) might have turned out had it been able to maintain the energy of its earlier scenes. That the screenplay tosses aside its refreshingly personal touch for a second half bogged down with cliché can be chalked up to rookie mistakes (this is Land’s lone writing credit and Vromen’s first feature), but that still leaves us with mistakes. The young cast - again, Hanks tops among them - is able to keep things afloat for a good while, but when the movie ultimately begins to sink, it sinks fast.
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originally posted: 01/30/07 17:50:16