An urban thriller from first-time director Michael D. Olmos, SPLINTER arrives in theaters loaded with gobs of style: with all its flashbacks, freeze-frames, slow-mo, fast-mo, and even reverse-mo, the film covers virtually everything found in the MTV Guide to Filmmaking. The results are visually impressive--nearly every frame exudes authentic East L.A. grit--but as with so many sharp-looking films, the narrative can't keep pace with the surface attractions.After a brutal drive-by shooting leaves his brother dead and himself with a case of amnesia, a young Latino gangbanger (Enrique Almeida) turns in desperation to up-and-coming Detective Gramm (Resmine Atis) in hopes of locating the mysterious gunman. Gramm finds herself with little help from her battle-hardened colleagues, among them borderline-wacko partner Det. Cunningham (Tom Sizemore), an alcoholic, grizzled vet who would just as soon bulldoze East L.A. and everyone in it. Additional complications arise when more bodies start piling up, and it becomes apparent that it's all the work not of gangbangers but a serial killer operating in the area.
Sizemore almost steals the show by bringing a don't-give-a-fuck exuberance to his role as the aging detective, but his burned-out, cynical character ultimately doesn't rise above the level of stereotype (at one point he actually says, "I'm too old for this shit"). In many other ways, SPLINTER spends too much time in overly familiar territory: Atis and Sizemore's partnership is the kind of cliche opposites-attract pairing that's been done far better elsewhere; and Edward James Olmos (the director's father) shows up for that eternal cop-movie standard, the Give-Me-Your-Badge scene. Add a character with amnesia to that mix, and you've got an awfully stale brew. Likewise, the twist at the end comes as far less of a surprise than was obviously intended.
But director Olmos (capably backed by cinematographer Bridger Nielson) has a strong visual sense, albeit one prone to excess. SPLINTER, for all its faults, has a certain seriousness of purpose; this comes through in its depiction of gang life, which is neither glamorized nor demonized but depicted in a matter-of-fact fashion.
Performances are generally solid. While Atis may come across as too delicate and model-pretty to be convincing as a police detective, that's arguably part of the point--her character is supposed to be out of place in this environment.While the film is at best only moderately successful, its director clearly has promise.