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Although an uncommonly good cast has been assembled for these “Five Tales of Madness” presented in graphic comic book style, Burning Palms is too thoroughly unpleasant and stylistically unfocused to make much of an impact at the box office, with its natural home being late night cable television.
Lacking any particular narrative link other than the fact that each episode is set in a well known Los Angeles neighborhood, the film is highly uneven in its tonally diverse tales, which all deal with serious dysfunction in one form or another.
A widowed father (Dylan McDermott) has an unhealthily intimate relationship with his teenage daughter (Emily Meade), much to the consternation of his new girlfriend (Rosamund Pike). A young woman (Jamie Chung) descends into madness after being induced to try a new sex act by her boyfriend (Robert Hoffman). A gay couple (Peter Macdissi, Anson Mount) adopt a young African girl who refuses to speak and at one point displays a troubling propensity for savagery. A trio of children being raised by a pot smoking nanny (Lake Bell) discovers a dark secret involving their household maid (Paz Vega). And a rape victim (Zoe Saldana) tracks down her attacker (Nick Stahl) and instead of turning him in tries to start a relationship.
While the film does have its share of memorable moments, most of them of the black humor variety, it falls seriously short in its attempts at psychological complexity. The best episodes are the more overtly comic ones, although even they are ultimately more unpleasant than entertaining.
What attracted such rising stars as Pike and Saldana, among others, to the material is anybody’s guess. The latter, in particular, is badly served with her segment that only serves to propagate the worst male fantasies about rape. But then again, nobody comes off looking well in this disturbingly misanthropic effort that leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.
Opens Jan. 14 (New Films Cinema)
Production: Films in Motion
Cast: Jamie Chung, Rosamund Pike, Dylan McDermott, Shannon Doherty, Zoe Saldana, Nick Stahl, Robert Hoffman, Paz Vega, Peter Macdissi, Anson Mount, Emily Meade
Director/screenwriter: Christopher B. Landon
Producers: Oren Segal, Jason Hewitt
Executive producers: Naz Jafri, Vince Morella, Tyler Thompson
Director of photography: Seamus Tierney
Editor: Greg Plotking
Production designer: Linda Burton
Costume designer: Christie Wittenborn
Music: Matthew Margeson
Rated R, 112 mins.
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