by Matt Seaver
“Tape” is a film that shows that even greatness has limits. Based on a play written by Stephen Belber, who also penned the nearly word-for-word screenplay, the dialogue is just higher than realism, the performances just a bit over the top, the set nicely confining, and the directing very invasive. And it all works very well. On stage.Seriously, there’s not really any reason for this to be blown up to the screen. The play is just about as perfect a script as one can find for the stage. But Richard Linklater decided to push longtime collaborator Ethan Hawke a little further, so I decided to give it a shot.
Hawke plays Vince, a drugged out deadbeat. He is the renter of the Lansing, MI hotel room where the entire film takes place. We see him pouring one beer down the drain as he drinks another, and decorating his room with them – making him look much worse off than he is. He’s soon joined by Jon Salter (Robert Sean Leonard), who we soon find out is his best friend from high school, and who is premiering a film at the Lansing Film Festival, which Vince has apparently come to support. As they chat, you get a good idea of how their friendship in high school worked – Vince was off the wall, and Jon was the quiet guy – neither benefiting more from the friendship, but each bringing something very different. Eventually, Vince moves away from beer and onto pot, and once he convinces Jon to smoke with him, talk turns to Amy Randall, a high school girlfriend of Vince’s who John slept with at the end of their senior year, ten years earlier. Vince is convinced that something happened that was less than consensual, and he’s determined to get it out of John… something that gets even more complicated when Amy (Uma Thurman) shows up at the door as well.
It’s a great little premise, and Belber’s script is fun to listen to for awhile. Leonard and Hawke certainly sound like they’ve known each other for some time – there’s a pretty decent established history between the two guys, though less so once Thurman enters the picture. Performance-wise, Hawke is great… it’s a very high-energy role for him, a little different from what I’m used to seeing. Leonard is less so, as there’s not a huge amount of difference between Jon Salter and his current Dr. Wilson on “House, MD.” Not that that’s a bad thing, since I love that show, but… it gets kind of bland for 90 minutes when there’s nothing else to look at.
The big downfall for the film is that it’s just too confining for film. As theatre, it works very well, because sometimes there’s no possibility of going any further than the one room. For film, it very quickly begins to feel very bland and repetitive. The only thing that got me through to the end was my fondness for the dialogue. It also feels very claustrophobic, which I think is part of what Linklater was going for in this particular experiment, but after awhile that too gets boring and bland. At first it’s a nice shock to know that there’s no escape from these three people and their issues, but soon that gives way to there seriously being no escape from these three people.Within the last few years, “Tape” has become something of a staple in college theatre departments. I’ve had the opportunity to play Jon Salter at least twice onstage, and I love this show. This film was a letdown, but not a terribly depressing one – it just confirmed that it is much better suited for the stage, and will hopefully discourage filmmakers in the future from thinking any differently.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4863&reviewer=412
originally posted: 08/31/06 01:27:20