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by Erik Childress

"Not A Rip-Off. So Buy It!"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2003 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: All of us at one time must have fantasized about getting something without ever having to open up for the mean green. Some of us may even harbor the secret of actually putting your hand in the candy jar and walking out of the confectionary before anyone was the wiser. What if you were compelled to do it though; having no control over the motor impulses that work your psyche? Would you declare it a sickness, a crime or something you could blame on your parents; a gene handed down to your own hands and sticky fingers? Thomas Trail’s auspicious debut explores the elements through a competing character study and crime plot that threaten to derail each other but more than makes off as a skillful entertainment.

Emily (Meredith Bishop) walks around the record store eyeing CDs and a third eye on the clerk watching her. Without skipping a beat she gets to the exit and bolts through the security buzzers, leading him on a dazzling foot chase to open the film. She doesn’t do much with her merchandise except storing it in boxes in her trunk; a condition of the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder she relays to her shrink (Michael Nouri). The watches she likes to collect though, since one remains a broken symbol of her long lost father.

One day in a department store, she pulls off a clever heist but not away from the watchful eyes of security monitor Nick (Jsu Garcia). As a former criminal himself, he’s impressed and isn’t about to turn her in. But intrigued is he and finds a potential dating loophole in blackmailing her for coffee. Consider it time served for getting to know someone.

Their two stories collide and their relationship builds while Nick plots a rather hefty Ecstasy score involving a shifty seller and his old Armenian financier, Ivan (Henry Czerny in an amusing performance). Nick’s family has already been torn apart by divorce; a victim to the same cameras he now uses to ensnare others. Emily’s mother (Leigh Taylor-Young) has shopped herself into debt, but there’s no clinical definition for shopaholics who pay.

Klepto’s screenplay (by Trail & Ethan Gross)could have maybe used one more good once-over. Emily’s story, the more interesting one, is nearly flushed to the back when Nick’s indiscretions begin to get him in deeper and deeper. The final heist also leaves too much speculative dangling, like why the items couldn’t be taken out of the backpack to alleviate the risk. I suppose since one character didn’t want the other one knowing, but wouldn’t they look anyway?

There’s more than enough to overlook such flaws beginning with the performances. Garcia belongs to that suave group of handsome tough guys that can charm you and make you want to distance yourself at the same time. In my notes I wrote down the names of Nick Corri and Esai Morales as comparisons only to discover later than Garcia actually was (or is) Nick Corri. Small world. Bishop, in her film debut, balances toughness with vulnerability and has a wonderful sequence during a long tracking shot where everything she’s done and how she feels about what she’s about to do is all communicated without ever speaking a word. It’s a remarkable moment for her.

That tracking shot is just one of the many nice directorial touches that Thomas Trail brings to the story. The opening chase is urgent and energetic and the crime plot is kept suspenseful even through its distractions and potential gaps in logic. With all the recent debate of file-sharing and entertainment downloading, it’s interesting to hear the statistics of theft attributed to 44% employee-based and only 33% consumers. The argument that downloaders use the system to discover new talent and influence their purchasing decisions has both the weight of truth and a crutch to stand on. Klepto and the talent involved (especially Bishop & Trail) are ones to discover. Because at the very least, they have the promise of careers to come; ones where we likely wouldn’t need downloads to decide if they’re worth our time.

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originally posted: 06/25/03 07:26:17
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2003 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

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