Park DayReviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 10/25/04 18:55:10
Park Day is like seventeen films in one, though none of them are particularly great films. It's about mysticism. It's about family. It's about college. It's about following your dreams. It's about small town America. It's about black fathers and sons fighitng for respect. It's about... oh, 106 minutes long.Steve Johnson (Hill Harper) is in a state of flux (otherwise known as Missouri). He wants to be a writer, but his father (Ron Canada) would prefer he went to business school instead. And when I say 'prefer', I mean 'loudly and belligerently insist'. So rather than make a decision one way or another, Steve instead floats through life making minimum wage in a shoe store. His buddy, John Eric (the awful, and thankfully unemployed since, Lande Scott) works the drive-thru window at a burger joint, stuck in a similar limbo but without any real dillemma to justify his crappy station in life - unlike Steve, who has too many options, the gherri-curled John Eric has none. Nor has Tamala (Monica Calhoun), who also once wanted to be a writer but has seemingly dropped back into a routine of shagging college boys in the hope of an easy coat-tails ride away from her smalltown lifestyle.
And so it goes that these three will have their lives come to a head during the annual town Park Day. Why will everything happen on Park Day? No real reason, it just does. Why will their lives come to a head? No real reason, they just do.
And that's where Park Day loses any impact it could have had and ends up twisting and turning in on itself until the entire plot is a big ball of everything. Writer/director (and usually actor) Sterling Macer Jr tries to do way too much in this, his one and only feature film in the driver's seat, in an effort to make it all far more important than it is. Every character has a story, but rather than make most of those stories of minor importance and use them as character building to support the main message for his film, Macer tries to have his cake, eat it too, and then order chinese take-out as a chaser.
I've worked in the movie industry a little, and I've seen this malaise many times. You have an actor who has been around the traps but hasn't set the world alight, maybe he has talent, maybe he doesn't, but eventually he gets the idea that what he should really do is write and direct his own film. Sometimes this is a good idea, and brings said actor a new lease on life - think Penny Marshall, Betty Thomas, Rob Reiner or Ron Howard. But more often than not, the actor learns very quickly that the art of writing and directing your own movie is about far more than simply raising some money, telling a story and lining up for your awards. There's a reason people spend three years at school learning how to be a writer or a director... it's really hard.
But credit to Macer for having managed to get his film up in the first place. That, in itself, requires a whole lot of determination, trust and talent. But it isn't enough.
Macer scored well in bringing Hill Harper (He Got Game, Get on the Bus), Monica Calhoun (The Best Man, Beauty Shop) and Ron Canada (The Human Stain) into his debut production, but from there it all falls apart. Lande Scott, trumpeted on the DVD cover as having "marvellously played" his character here, has about as much screen presence as a small jar of pickles. He, and a variety of other background characters with a distinct lack of acting skills, seem to continually sabotage Park Day by taking the audience out of the story and into eye roll spasms.
When the crappy acting isn't putting holes in Park Day, the convoluted storyline and vast mix of genres is. The end result is a compelling, beautiful to look at, but ultimately empty viewing experience that simply have the cajones to go as dark as it seemed to have wanted to.Hill Harper fans might get a kick out of Park Day, for he's certainly as good in this as he has been in anything else, before or after. A valiant effort, if a misguided one, Park Day is worth a weekly rental... but only just.
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