EmptyPARK CITY -- "Weapons" brings the perennial problems of teenagers into the twenty-first century with a decidedly downbeat treatment. The film's stylish and innovative look, influenced by the slowed-down rhythms of Southern hip-hop, doesn't quite carry the elemental story of love and revenge. Its heart and soul may appeal to the new lost generation, but not the standard indie crowd.
Shot in the suburban nowhere of Southern California, the film could really take place wherever kids are restless, bored and disaffected. That's always been a recipe for violence, and director Adam Bhala Lough does not disappoint on that count. Film opens with a particularly gruesome shooting in which a kid's head is blown off in a hamburger joint. The story bobs and weaves backwards in time to eventually reveal how this came about.
"Weapons" centers on two groups of friends, one white and one black, who, in a nice touch, seem to more or less peacefully coexist until the explosion. On the white side is Jason (Riley Smith), a one-time high school basketball star who has fallen into a life of drugs and easy sex. His best buddy Sean (Mark Webber) has, somewhat unbelievably, just returned to the neighborhood from his first year in college. Rounding out the trio is the loose cannon Chris (Paul Dano), a classic misfit who goes around sticking a video camera in everyone's face.
The story ignites when Reggie (Nick Cannon) discovers his kid sister Sabrina (Regine Nehy) with a black eye. She says Jason did it and in a rage Reggie sets out for revenge accompanied by his best friend Mikey (Jade Yorker) and Mikey's younger brother James (Brandon Mychal Smith). Although he's probably no more than sixteen Reggie is intent on getting a gun from Mikey's crazy uncle (Arliss Howard), who seems to be channeling the stoned-out Dennis Hooper from "Apocalypse Now." After Reggie bludgeons him with a fire extinguisher all bets are off.
In between constantly getting high and stumbling around in a daze, the aggrieved parties are gradually drawn together with tragic results. But despite the buildup, the killings don't carry much weight when they finally happen. These are not characters most people can sympathy with. One tends to watch dispassionately as the inevitable plays out.
Constructed around the music of the southern hip hopper DJ Screw, which aims to simulate the laconic sound of a codeine high, the film relies on endless handheld shots and slow motion sequence in cars and at parties. There is a lot of super-saturated color meant to suggest the drug-induced state.
For their part, the kids are so high most of the time they have become matter-of-fact about the violence around them. Performances by the ensemble cast feel authentic, especially Dano as the loser Chris and Smith as the burnt out Jason. Amy Ferguson, as one of the neighborhood girls who has been around the block at sixteen, captures the dead-end feeling of a life evaporating before it starts.
With a keener eye for detail than story, Lough has definitely tapped a vein in the underbelly of America's youth. But for all its snappy editing (by Jay Rabinowitz) and visual bravado (by cinematographer Manuel Albert Claro), "Weapons" is not a pretty picture.
Fried Films/Pantry Films
Director: Adam Bhala Lough
Producers: Rob Fried, Dan Keston, Bill Straus
Executive Producers: Jason Lust, Sol Tryon
Director of Photography: Manual Albert Claro
Production Designer: Alan E. Muraoka
Music: DJ Screw
Costume Designer: Tere Duncan
Editor: Jay Rabinowitz
Reggie: Nick Cannon
Chris: Paul Dano
Sean: Mark Webber
Jason: Riley Smith
Sabrina: Regine Nehy
Nikki: Amy Ferguson
Mikey: Jade Yorker
Mikey's uncle: Arliss Howard
James: Brandon Mychal Smith
Running time: 85 minutes
No MPAA rating