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Three Dramas from Sony

Fragments (November 30/09)

Fragments follows several characters as they attempt to move on with their respective lives in the aftermath of a random shooting at a Los Angeles diner, with their differing strategies for coping subsequently forming the bulk of the movie's running time. Given the strength of the setup, it'd be reasonable to expect a searing, emotionally devastating drama somewhere along the lines of 21 Grams or Magnolia - yet the movie suffers from a curiously flat sensibility that effectively robs the various plotlines of their impact. There's subsequently little doubt that it's the performances that hold the viewer's interest on a consistent basis, as director Rowan Woods has elicited stirring work from a uniformly impressive cast that includes Kate Beckinsale, Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, and Forest Whitaker. And while some of these stories are inherently more interesting than others - ie Fanning's Anne Hagen becomes disturbingly religious following the tragedy - the relatively (and pervasively) banal nature of Roy Freirich's screenplay forces the viewer to approach the proceedings from a place of total indifference. The end result is a watchable yet disappointing piece of work that admittedly benefits from an unexpectedly engrossing finale (ie the fast-and-furious revelations temporarily elevate the viewer's waning interest), and it's certainly not difficult to see why the film, though packed with familiar faces, bypassed theaters to premiere on home video.

out of

The Human Contract (January 30/10)

Well made but hopelessly dull, The Human Contract follows high-powered PR executive Julian Wright (Jason Clarke) as he reluctantly confronts his myriad of personal problems after encountering a free-spirited stranger (Paz Vega's Michael Reed). First-time filmmaker Jada Pinkett Smith proves unable to infuse The Human Contract with attributes designed to capture and sustain the viewer's attention on a consistent basis, which effectively ensures that the movie - for the bulk of its overlong running time - suffers from a vibe of pointlessness that's nothing short of oppressive. It's consequently not surprising to note that the fine performances and sleek visuals are essentially rendered moot by Pinkett Smith's relentlessly meandering modus operandi, and there's little doubt that the writer/director's inability to transform the central character into a reasonably compelling figure plays a substantial role in the movie's abject failure (ie Julian's persistent mopiness grows tiresome almost immediately). The pervasively inconsequential atmosphere is compounded by the inclusion of several underwhelming subplots, with Julian's ongoing familial problems (ie his sister's abusive husband, his mother's religious fervor, etc) certainly standing tall above the film's list of needless elements. By the time the utterly anticlimactic (and unconvincing) finale rolls around, The Human Contract has effectively established itself as an uninvolving, downright boring piece of work that doesn't bode well for Pinkett Smith's future behind the camera.

out of

Never Get Outta The Boat (January 31/10)

Though it boasts a gritty sensibility that lends it a palpable vibe of authenticity, Never Get Outta The Boat is nevertheless unable to establish itself as anything more than a tedious and hopelessly irrelevant endeavor that overstays its welcome by at least a full hour. The movie follows the residents of a rundown halfway house as they attempt to move on with their post-addiction lives, with the arrival of a famous musician (Sebastian Roche's Soren) creating a fair amount of havoc for three of the facility's denizens (Lombardo Boyar's Cesar, Darren E. Burrows' Franky, and Nick Gillie's Joe). It's clear almost instantly that Never Get Outta The Boat's problems stem primarily from a proliferation of woefully underdeveloped personalities, as screenwriter Gillie proves unable to infuse the movie's myriad of characters with wholeheartedly compelling attributes - which effectively ensures that the viewer is simply unable to work up any sympathy for these people or their respective predicaments. The almost excessively frenetic atmosphere certainly doesn't do the film any favors, with Paul Quinn's frequent reliance on questionable (and downright needless) tricks - ie the filmmaker employs a fish-eye lens for one scene - only exacerbating the pervasive feeling of unpleasantness. And although the movie does feature one or two sequences of interest - ie Alley Mills, the mom from The Wonder Years, pops up as a grizzled former junkie - Never Get Outta The Boat ultimately comes off as a hit-and-miss drama that might appeal to those with some connection to its hard-scrabble world, admittedly, yet the majority of viewers are unlikely to find much of anything here worth embracing.

out of

About the DVDs: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents all three titles with anamorphically-enhanced transfers, and although Never Get Outta The Boat comes up empty in terms of bonus features, Fragments and The Human Contract boast a number of supplemental materials.
© David Nusair