This review was written for the theatrical release of "Day Zero."
NEW YORK -- For some reason, themes revolving around the Iraq War seem to be defying the best efforts of serious-minded filmmakers. Such is the case with this debut feature effort from Bryan Gunnar Cole.
Depicting the inner conflicts of three men who have just received draft notices, "Day Zero" squanders the dramatic potential of its premise with a ham-fisted execution.
In this story set in the near future, said draft has been reinstated because of another terrorist attack that has killed thousands in Los Angeles.
The recipients are best friends George Rifkin (Chris Klein), a corporate lawyer on the fast track; Aaron Feller (Elijah Wood), a neurotic writer experiencing a creative block; and James Dixon (Jon Bernthal), a blue-collar cabbie with a hair-trigger temper.
Each copes with the news in a different way. Rifkin, whose beautiful wife (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a cancer survivor, attempts various methods to avoid serving, from pulling political strings to chopping off a finger. Feller, after some hapless attempts at living life to the fullest done at the suggestion of his condescending shrink (Ally Sheedy), eventually goes all Travis Bickle. And the heretofore commitment-shy Dixon suddenly finds himself getting into a relationship with a sweet schoolteacher (Elisabeth Moss).
The characterizations rarely rise above the level of cliche, with only Bernthal's Dixon exhibiting some interesting aspects. Robert Malkani's screenplay never achieves a consistent tone, veering from broad comedy (Wood's slapstick encounter with an exercise machine) to over-the-top histrionics (Klein shouting slurs in a gay bar). Most significantly, the friendship among the three wildly disparate characters never comes across as remotely credible.
As with so many similarly themed films of the last year, "Day Zero" demonstrates that good intentions don't necessarily result in good drama.