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1 review, 3 user ratings

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Powder Blue
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by Erik Childress

"Biel’s Boobs Aren’t The Only Ones On Display"
1 stars

The subgenre of seemingly random characters and their hapless life circumstances may have peaked with the backlash over Oscar winner Crash. These “hyperlink movies”, as they have recently been coined, must be fun for writers to craft, allowing themselves the freedom to tell multiple tales in short form and then dropping clues to the overall puzzle so we can all “oooh” and “ohhh” at the ironies and coincidence. From Nashville to Pulp Fiction to Traffic, master directors wove a pastiche of simple truths towards a greater one and yet it was Crash that took home the prize for Best Picture. Since then there have been a few well-received films of this ilk such as Babel and Syriana and some very notable (and little seen) disasters such as The Air I Breathe and this year’s unconscionable immigrant drama, Crossing Over. Timothy Linh Bui is the latest writer/director to take a stab at the hyperlink and what he has going in his favor is the idea that few will remember his Powder Blue as a desperate copy job of Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant Magnolia but rather as the film where Jessica Biel finally took it all off.

Biel plays Rose Johnny, an exotic dancer (we’ll class it up for the moment) who lives out of a hotel, has trouble connecting with men (when we first meet her she’s apologizing for somehow throwing a table on her first date) and has a young son comatose in the hospital. But wait, there’s more. The first guy destined to find a connection with her is Jack Doheny (Ray Liotta), whom when we first meet him he’s standing like a naked Max Cady looking out at the ocean. Turns out he’s an ex-con that did some 25 years inside and has been given a nice bag of money for keeping his mouth shut so as not to implicate his boss (Kris Kristofferson). Another is Qwerty Doolittle (Eddie Redmayne). Yes, Qwerty Doolittle, and he looks just like his name. He’s a mortician whose family business (that he inherited) is going under. A bad case of asthma tends to knock him out at the site of a pretty girl and he has dreams of being a professional puppeteer. Qwerty Doolittle, ladies and gentlemen. With virtually no connection to any of the other players, there’s Charlie (Forest Whitaker) who is out trolling the streets with his own bag o’cash looking for someone to shoot him. Charlie is what we call audience representation.

Rose (who goes under the radically different stripper name of Scarlet) isn’t exactly a happy dancer but gets some gentle attention from Jack who has a keen interest in anything but her lapdances. The connection is obvious, but Jack never quite puts it into words and is eventually tossed from her life when she gets the jist of his enigmatic confession. Rose has bigger problems than long-lost father figures though. She’s lost her dog. Luckily, Qwerty hit the pooch with his car and has the means to nurse it back to health. When he sees signs all over the city hoping for the doggie’s safe return, he balks at first with the unbeknownst karmic irony that if he just did the right thing he would end up with a stripper that looked like Jessica Biel. Meanwhile, cut to poor Forest Whitaker sitting at a bus stop in the rain using the motivation that the film crew has actually forgotten that his character is in the movie.

Moments like that are what transforms Powder Blue from being just another simplistic connect-the-troubled-dots movie to the brand of mock-worthy film that never got its due on Mystery Science Theater 3000. So ultra-serious in trying to bounce its emotional thematics off the audience’s psyche, Powder Blue becomes filled with the kind of side stories that might be considered quirky if the film was an outright comedy but is instead passed off as dark and gritty. We’re miles removed from Scorsese’s After Hours here, but Lihn Bui keeps reminding us how the evening streets are the literal reflection of his characters search for love in a culture where it never comes without a price. Unless, of course, you’re fortunate enough to hit the right dog or eat in just the right diner where Lisa Kudrow is working through her own relationship problems.

Coincidence plays a big part in any hyperlink movie, but there’s no getting around how analogous Powder Blue is to any number of other films and it only adds to the scorn. Partly just a matter of unfortunate timing, but for those privy to the recent Wendy and Lucy it’s impossible not to snicker a little at Biel’s desperate search for her lost pup, especially after she’s also busted for shoplifting. Maybe Linh Bui has really never seen The Crying Game so maybe its just fate that he would cast Forest Whitaker as a guy on the prowl for tranny hookers that look like Jaye Davidson. Incidentally, Patrick Swayze (who along with Whitaker starred in Linh Bui’s last film, 2001’s Green Dragon) as the strip club manager who hired his brother, Don, as a bouncer just happens to don the same blonde wig as the tranny hooker Whitaker tracks down.

But there’s no getting around the idea that Linh Bui hasn’t watched PTA’s Magnolia a couple dozen times. Either that or the one time was enough to make an impression on his filmmaking approach. Jessica Biel’s Rose bares more than a passing resemblance to Melora Walters’ distressed Claudia, coked up with daddy issues who finds momentary (and maybe temporary) solace in the arms of a lonely, socially awkward speed dater. Maybe I’m just reaching, right? Like the characters – desperate to make that perfect connection. Tell me that after you see Biel & Redmayne’s first embrace. Rose suggests that they close their eyes and hug on the count of three. You can use the countdown yourself to anticipate the quick stand-up and dolly-in that is filmed in precisely the same manner as the first kiss by Walters and John C. Reilly in P.T. Anderson’s film. You thought the Forrest Gump/Benjamin Button comparisons were pretty obvious? Try putting these two scenes side-by-side. To bring the hyperlinked Magnolia full circle, Linh Bui ends the film with his own impractical weather phenomenon which not only answers the question to where the title comes from but also put the final stamp on one character’s demise that makes Jack Nicholson’s final image in The Shining seem aristocratic by comparison.

This titular anomaly isn’t associated with any kind of biblical wrath (although faith & God is sprinkled throughout, including one head-thumping revelation in the final act) but can be explained through the absorbtion of various colors, leaving the film with the most egregious film school definitions of red and blue since I Know Who Killed Me. Where Lindsay Lohan disappointed us in joining Jessica Alba, Salma Hayek, Rose McGowan and Natalie Portman as strippers who don’t strip, the other Jessica certainly doesn’t disappoint. And let’s be honest, it’s the primary reason anyone has any interest in this film. Biel may have felt strongly enough about the material to make this her flash of the pan (and kudos to her commitment) but let’s just say she doesn’t exactly have the eye for scripts that Marisa Tomei does. So what if you have to wade through an hour-plus of bad drama with a stalking Ray Liotta and Whitaker hysterically realizing he has lost his car. You get to see Biel flaunting her incredible body (and a few instances of incredible snot – rivaling the hyperlinked Crossing Over’s foray into overdramatic commitment to crying scenes) in various states of scantily dress before finally giving it up three times in the final 35 minutes. So order the DVD, call all your guy friends over and get ready with the chapter skip. Unless, of course, you were just looking for something to fill comedy night. Then, by all means, watch Powder Blue from front-to-fabulous-back.

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originally posted: 05/08/09 14:00:00
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User Comments

1/08/10 pojuy last film of patrick s. 2 stars
7/24/09 Toddx7 Jessica Biel, Ray Liota, and Eddie Redmayne really stand out. Great strip scenes! 4 stars
5/25/09 Joe 1 star movie, 4 star for jessica's stripper scene- it was nearly spank worthy 2 stars
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  08-May-2009 (R)
  DVD: 09-Jun-2009


  DVD: 09-Jun-2009

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