Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/15/12 13:42:21

"Neither a thriller nor a look at a broken mind should be this dull."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2012: It doesn't happen very often, but "Rubberneck" is almost too simple to classify. It's got characteristics of both a thriller and an indie drama of the character-study variety, but the only thing that seems unique about it is the setting, which doesn't contribute much to making the action interesting.

One night after a research laboratory's holiday party, scientists Paul (Alex Karpovsky) and Danielle (Jaime Ray Newman) hook up. That's enough for Danielle, but eight months later, Paul is still hung up. Kathy (Dakota Shepard), the girl he sees on occasion, bears a strong resemblance to Danielle, who finds herself attracted to new hire Chris (Dennis Staroselsky), not aware of just what sort of issues Paul has had since he and sister Linda (Amanda Good Hennessey) were abandoned by their mother.

Simplicity can be a fine thing for a movie like this; it would be easy for Karpovsky (who also directs) and co-writer Garth Donovan to pile subplots and twists on top of their story, but they opt not to. If there were more to that story, that would be admirable, but Rubberneck is so straightforward that some sort of digression might be welcome. Instead, it follows an uninspiringly logical outline, maybe not quite predictable but seldom surprising, with one thing leading to another without any sort of random event that might make the audience reconsider what is going on.

Maybe if Paul were a more interesting character, that would make a difference, but Karpovsky's always playing him in one of two modes. For the first half or so of the movie, he's the exaggeratedly creepy nerd; there are times when the camera will pan to him and he has this look on his face that says "I am a sad outsider looking in" so plainly that one almost has to laugh at the obviousness of it. Then at other times he's scared and traumatized, and he does it well enough, but it feels like every other character that's ever been in this position.

The rest of the cast winds up in a somewhat similar situation. None of them ever really feel far off from realistic, but so often, it's a realism without any sort of individuality. Yes, I believe that this is how Danielle would act in a given situation, because it's how most anybody would, but Jaime Ray Newman has a hard time giving her much individual personality. Dennis Staroselsky either doesn't give Chris enough personality that the audience can tell when he's lying, or he's not given the latitude to do so. Amanda Good Hennessey probably gives the best performance just by dint of having a little conflict between Linda loving her brother and knowing he's got problems.

Add all that up, and "Rubberneck" is drab; even the overdone parts are overdone in the blandest of ways. There may be an good movie in this story, but either Paul or the things that happen with him need to have some sort of spark.

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