'Winged Creatures'


Rowan Woods' "Winged Creatures" is earnest as all get-out, but the underlying artistic purpose of the dirge-like melodrama is terribly muddled. A nut job shoots up a Los Angeles-area coffee shop, killing himself once he feels he has accomplished his purpose, and the survivors are left to cope with their feelings of fear, bereavement and guilt. It's not a new theme, nor does writer Roy Freirich bring anything new to the table. The 94-minute film has the look and feel of a television drama but without the heat and intelligence the best TV movies possess.

Lots of luck to Sony in trying to figure out how to market a film that has no easily identifiable audience. Sony Worldwide Releasing has domestic rights to "Winged Creatures," though the company has not yet determined which of its units will release the film, nor when it will be released. The best thing to do with the film, which was a surprise premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival, is to let it ride the festival circuit, then get it quickly into home entertainment, where an unusually high quotient of name actors will attract viewers.

As with all ensemble pieces, the film jumps episodically among the various story lines. However, few of these subplots by themselves make much sense. That shellshocked characters act irrationally is understandable, but the story lines shouldn't lack rationality. Plus, many characters seem to have what insurance companies like to call pre-existing conditions.

Forest Whitaker's character, apparently recovered from a gambling addiction, reverts to form following his near brush with death. Oh, by the way, the filmmakers give him cancer, too, which presumably underscores his turn into self-destructiveness.

Guy Pearce's doctor, who left the cafe moments before the slaughter, starts slipping his unsuspecting wife increasingly dangerous drugs to counter her chronic headaches. Dakota Fanning's little girl turns into a born-again Christian and extols the bravery of her dad, who died at the scene.

Kate Beckinsale's single-mom waitress suddenly hungers after male companionship, eyeing virtually every man she sees, including the married doctor. Meanwhile, she obsesses about the fact her cell phone failed her during the rampage.

None of these subplots really adds up to much. Nor do the continual flashbacks to the crime scene — as characters fixate on and recall the event — shed any revelatory light on the incident or the characters' reactions.

The characters remain remote, out of touch, not only from family and friends but from viewers. You never see why the killings provoke these particular oddball quirks. The problem is that the film has little if any backstory for its people: You can't imagine what any of these people were like before the tragic incident.

The movie thoroughly wastes those playing family members and friends, including Jennifer Hudson, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Embeth Davidtz. Tech credits are satisfactory, though unexceptional, because visual artistry certainly is not Woods' strong suit. (partialdiff)