Newport Beach Film Festival: You Got Blurbed


Starving actor John Person (Jon Favreau) is holed up in a California desert town, waiting for a mysterious stranger known as Cowboy (Sean Bean), who's supposed to give him 24 grand in exchange for a bright-blue suitcase, contents unknown. John keeps missing the rendezvous, though, because he's distracted by the colorful local citizenry, particularly the voluptuous Ruthie (Rachael Leigh Cook), her jealous boyfriend (a scene-stealing Adam Beach) and a couple of sunbaked UFO-conspiracy nuts. Writer-director Steve Anderson, a CNN cameraman making his feature debut, has a flair for sweet-hearted, love-starved characters, which may be what convinced reliable vets such as Daryl Hannah, Bud Cort and Kelsey Grammer to take small roles. More amiable than laugh-out-loud funny, the film pokes along, buoyed by the motel's bright Hawaiian color scheme, and a moonlit desert finale that's awfully pretty, even if it doesn't satisfactorily explain that blue bag. As for Favreau, it's a good thing he's recently hit the big time as a director (Elf), because as an actor he's not exactly energizing—John remains a dullard, even after the blue-bag aliens (or whatever) have infused his inner emptiness with soul. (Chuck Wilson) (Regency Lido, Sun., 8 p.m.)


If the world of hipster celebrities is a box of chocolates, Hunter S. Thompson is one of those orange cream things that you inevitably find mixed in with the stuff that you actually want. If you follow the careers of interesting people like, say, Terry Gilliam, Alex Cox, Gary Trudeau or Johnny Depp, you just have to accept that Thompson will turn up in their adventures again and again. The problem isn't that Thompson is untalented. On the contrary, when the man isn't too screwed up on drugs he can be a funny, absorbing and occasionally brilliant writer. But alongside his increasingly incoherent writing, Thompson has made a whole other career out of being publicly obnoxious--waving guns around, vomiting on people's carpets, etc. His wildman persona got old long before he did and just gets more pitiful as the decades go by. The documentary Breakfast with Hunter chronicles the lengthy process involved in adapting Thompson's classic memoir Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas into a film, and along the way we see him making life hell for just about everybody he comes into contact with (a list that includes such notables as Depp, Gilliam, Benicio Del Toro, John Cusack, songwriter Warren Zevon, artist Ralph Steadman and journalists George Plimpton and P.J. O'Rourke). As a traveling spectacle Thompson makes for fascinating viewing, but lord knows he would better serve his talent and the rest of us by checking himself into a good detox program. (Greg Stacy) (Regency Lido, Sat., 6 p.m.)


Since his mother and sister died years ago, sullen teen Adam Sheppard (Evan Peters) has refused to cut his hair and now has goofy, Peter Frampton locks cascading down his shoulders. Adam's boozer dad (Chris Eigeman) is at least as messed up as Adam is and provides no real guidance, so when Adam responds violently to some schoolyard bullying, his concerned grandmother (Louise Fletcher) arranges for him to seek counseling once a week with a hip neighborhood priest (Kevin Sorbo). Written, directed, produced and presumably catered by Michael Picchiottino, Clipping Adam is perched precariously on the brink between genuine, affecting Catcher In the Rye coming-of-age tale and Afterschool Specialschmaltz. Picchiottino's dialogue is natural and he handles his actors well; Sorbo, for instance, is surprisingly adept in his smallish but pivotal role, with an understated, world-weary charm he never had much call to use back on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The film generally captures the low-key despair of disaffected teendom quite well and it's suffused with the kind of quirky details that only come from real-life experience, but some aspects of the story (such as a lengthy chase scene) ring terribly false and feel like they've been tacked on in a misguided attempt to "spice up" the action. Make no mistake, Clipping Adam is a good film and worth seeking out . . . but frankly it could have used a little trimming in the editing room. (GS) (Edwards Island, Fri., 6:15 p.m.)


Michael Sladek's strange and irritating but potent directorial debut follows Joseph (Stephan Donovan), a 30-year-old, wannabe artist who finds himself ping-ponging around in various alternate realities, getting glimpses of other paths his life could have taken. Devils are Dreaming is a clumsy and off-putting film, but it has a strange power that sneaks up on you. For the first few reels I dismissed it as simply amateurish and paid more active attention to the affecting mope-rock soundtrack by the New York band Stupid, but gradually I was drawn in to poor Joseph's plight. Donovan starts the film as a charmless lump but his performance just seems to get better and better the more frantic Joseph becomes; by the film's conclusion, you may be surprised how much you've grown to worry about where Joseph will eventually wind up. He can't seem to find contentment in any of these realities, and there is something genuine and affecting about the plight of this schlubby, depressed everyman adrift in a potentially infinite number of suburban hells. Joseph's story is a perfect sci-fi allegory for the dilemmas faced by many men of a certain age: What happened to my dreams? How did I get this crappy job? How did I end up married to this strange woman? Where the hell did these kids come from? For a while Joseph is allowed to just ride each scenario out, safe in the knowledge that at least a new reality will probably come along soon. But, as with all of us, as time goes by it becomes more difficult for Joseph to pick up and start his life over. What strange forces are toying with Joseph this way? What strange forces are guiding your life? (GS) (Regency Lido, Mon., 3 p.m.)

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