'The Alley Cat': Film Review

Nighttime bike race through Chicago’s South Loop topples in a dramatic wipeout

Filmmaker Marie Ullrich attempts a psychological drama mixed with a road movie

A nocturnal smear of a bike race slicked over a flat family drama, The Alley Cat gasps and careens in a heap of flat writing and story ballast. It’s a very long 68-minute grind. Playing here at the 50th Chicago International Film Festival, The Alley Cat was greeted with feeble hometown enthusiasm.

Focusing on an annual competition among a group of professional bike messengers who race through the deserted nighttime streets of the South Loop, The Alley Cat lurches through a noir-lit section of the Loop and detours into a murky family melodrama.

Filmmaker Marie Ullrich attempts a psychological drama inside an intriguing spin on a road movie. It centers on Jasper (Jenny Strubin), a sullen female bike messenger. Unfortunately, the other cyclists are depicted in crude caricature, most egregiously a drunken cyclist, supposedly included for comic relief. The level of acting is so amateurish that we suspect that the players were selected primarily for their ability to cycle, rather than emote. In their defense, they are handicapped by dialogue that is pure rubber.

Along the way, we begin to suspect that there is something more to the story than the outcome of the race. It’s suggested that Jasper is the "baby mama" of another biker who is killed during the race: Such dramatic overkill is indicative of the plot-hole nature of the entire story expedition. Particularly enervating is a scene where the fallen one’s fellow bikers pay respect at the site of his demise — they stick token remembrances around the spot. Unfortunately, this potentially moving moment is about as emotion-packed as a Chicago Transit Authority worker erecting a signpost.

At this bathetic climax, Jasper lights out to her sister's and brother-in-law’s home to connect with her “niece,” encountering some stereotypical, nocturnal creepy crawlers along the way.

On the plus side, The Alley Cat displays some striking noir shots of the South Loop that intermittently divert one’s attention away from the pedestrian story.

Production Company: Econoprod
Cast: Jenny Strubin
Screenwriter/producer/director: Marie Ullrich
Editor: Eric Houtz

No rating, 68 minutes