Dangerous Parking



Tokyo International Film Festival

TOKYO -- One can hardly picture the story of "an alcoholic, drug-abusing arrogant bastard" struggling to survive rehab and severe illness as a heartwarming tragicomedy, but that's what the late Stuart Browne seems to have achieved in his semi-autobiographic novel "Dangerous Parking."

In adapting it for the screen, Peter Howitt ("Sliding Doors," "Laws of Attraction") has made a 180-degree stylistic turn from the chic, effervescent touch of his romantic comedies. His portrayal of cult filmmaker Noah Arkwright is larger than life, in your face and overdoses on wisecracks and technical gimmicks. Some will avoid it like a bad hangover, but if you can stomach Howitt's abrasive performance in the title role, the twists and turns of the protagonist's destiny are a sobering reminder of the dark side of carpe diem.

Howitt's name and the original novel's popularity will boost boxoffice on his British home turf, though the foul language, explicit sex and subject of substance abuse will limit theater entrance to an adult audience. The British humor and wordy dialogue makes translations across non-English-speaking cultures difficult.

The character of Noah (Howitt) is a composite of so many self-destructive artists and celebs, from Jim Morrison to the current crew of Hollywood brats. Self-absorption being the natural calling of many a filmmaker like Arkwright, the whole narrative is represented through his bleary stream of consciousness. Often, we just get a talking head exploding into hallucinations, animation or film-within-films.

The overall shaping of the timeline is not very tightly structured. It requires some thought to decipher when and why things happen. Noah is first seen running out of what looks like a church, uttering profanities. We later find out that it was an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting he was roped into by Kirstin (Rachael Stirling), an ex-boozer whom Noah met and failed to bed in a drunken stupor. Kirstin eventually gets it on with Noah's DP and best mate Ray (Sean Pertwee), who has secretly come clean and wants Noah to do so too. During his adventure in a boutique detox center, Noah has a visitation from his dead mom, who promises to send an angel to his succor. She appears in the form of cellist Claire (Saffron Burrows). Why she eventually marries Noah -- addiction and all -- is surely an act of divine intervention. Their courtship in Morocco certainly provides a much-needed romantic interlude before things get grimmer for Noah and his friends.

Howitt's Noah is a one-man show that is full of bravado but upstages the entire cast. The overwritten script has a lot of scorching one-liners, but many jokes also fall with a dull thud. This is part-and-parcel of the characterization of a egomaniac who is sometimes endearing but often anti-social and annoying.

The film's mood swings between the physical torture and emotional panic of quitting cold turkey and the instant gratification and lingering self-loathing of relapses after each rehab endeavor. Every time Noah goes into a tailspin, so does the film. Most of the time it's as if the principle cast and crew had swallowed a handful of uppers but forgot the downers. So the pace is on a continuous high, leaving the audience barely enough downtime to register the childhood trauma, deep-seated insecurity and emotional vulnerability underneath the brash splenetic. Nevertheless, the flashes of brilliance exert a strong emotional hold.

Flaming Pie Films/Velvet Octopus
Screenwriter-director: Peter Howitt
Based on the novel by: Stuart Browne
Producer: Richard Johns
Director of photography: Zoran Veljkovic
Production designer: Lisa Hall
Music: Andre Barreau
Costume designer: Angela Billows
Editor: David Barrett
Noah Arkwright: Peter Howitt
Claire Matheson: Saffron Burrows
Ray: Sean Pertwee
Kirstin: Rachael Stirling
Doc Baker: Tom Conti
Etta: Alice Evans
Running time -- 109 minutes
No MPAA rating