Friday, November 10, 2006

Harsh Times

Imagine if Cheech and Chong cruised around South Central L.A. and Mexico, and one of them was a psychotic Rambo wannabe. That’s the basic premise, actually the entire plot, of Harsh Times. These characters have made each of their lives into a long, boring, pointless mess…kinda’ like this film.

Jim (Christian Bale) is an award winning screw-up and psycho. He spends his days getting high and drunk with his friends in South Central L.A. Despite his nature, his constant need for violence and total disregard for the law, and severe post-traumatic shock from his time as a soldier in Iraq, Jim wants to be a cop or maybe a Fed.

His best pal Mike (Freddy Rodriguez) is another loser with a woman (Eva Longoria) he doesn’t deserve. He spends his days pretending to get for a job while actually getting high with Jim.

This is a film about brutal people who keep making the wrong decisions. It’s impossible to care about Jim, Mike, or their nameless friends and acquaintances. Whatever trouble they get into they bring on themselves, and the consequences are more than justly deserved.

The film tries to paint a good side to these characters giving us Jim’s girl in Mexico (Tammy Tull) and the love between Mike and Sylvia, but these small glimmers of actual humanity are buried deep inside characters we don’t want to spend ten minutes with (let alone the entire two-hour running time). Too little, too late. There’s just not enough good in either of them to justify one single moment of their behavior, let alone try to excuse, or understand, any of it.

The film also has the problem of looking and feeling cheaply made. The hand-held camera shots cramped into cars and, the chap Iraq “night-vision” intro and flashbacks, and the total lack of extras in many scenes - is this L.A. or the middle of nowhere? I doubt the “film” was actually made for two nickels and a bag of chips, but that’s certainly how it appears.

The Diagnosis
I understand the idea behind writer/director David Ayer‘s film, but I just didn’t care. The performances are fine, though most of what it calls for are over-the-top-drug-induced-lunacy and stupidity, which isn’t the hardest thing in the world to portray. Rodriguez is the only one who isn’t way over the top or just phoning it in, but his performance, and the in-focus subtitles for the Spanish language scenes, aren’t quite enough to justify the film being made, let alone to recommend that anyone spend money to see it.