American Crime (February 27/05)
With his performance in American Crime, Cary Elwes does the impossible: he makes his work in Saw look restrained by comparison (it's seems unfathomable, I know). Elwes, playing a sleazy TV host, imbues the character with equal parts Thurston Howell III, John Houseman, and Wink Martindale - an unusual combination that results in a bizarrely over-the-top performance from an actor who's never been known for subtlety (the sad part is that Elwes' histrionics are the most entertaining aspect of the film).
Aside from a storyline that just isn't interesting, American Crime can't seem to decide whether or not it wants to be a satire of true-crime television shows or an all-out thriller. This is exacerbated by Jeff Ritchie and Jack Moore's screenplay, which is - structurally speaking - a complete and utter mess. The problem emerges when the duo attempt to fuse Albert Bodine's (Elwes) program - called, appropriately enough, American Crime - with the rest of the film. As a result, it's never entirely clear how much of the film is actually happening and how much is simply a re-enactment created for Bodine's show. But even the latter is eventually called into question, when it becomes clear that Bodine himself is one of the prime suspects behind a series of murders (ie there's no way that he could've filmed himself being interrogated by the cops).
American Crime's storyline - involving the search for a missing journalist (Rachael Leigh Cook) by her producer (Annabella Sciorra) and cameraman (Kip Pardue) - is woefully underdeveloped, leaving the various characters trapped inside a mystery that's tedious almost from the get-go. It finally gets to the point where the only thing that's keeping us even remotely engaged is the question surrounding the killer's identity, and even that aspect of American Crime is mishandled (there's no definite answer as to who the murderer is).
The film's been directed by Dan Mintz, who does nothing to allay the general sense of confusion. Mintz's penchant for sudden bursts of heavy editing contributes heavily to the unpleasant vibe that's present throughout most of American Crime, and it certainly doesn't help that the filmmaker has some kind of aversion to using a tripod. In terms of the acting, nobody manages to make much of an impact - with the exception of Elwes, of course. If not for his hammy, scenery-chewing, almost otherworldly performance, there's no doubt that American Crime would've been a whole lot more excruciating.