Leslie, My Name Is Evil -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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TORONTO -- Reminding one of the worst excesses of agitprop theater during the late '60s and '70s, "Leslie, My Name Is Evil" is a strident, awkward piece constructed around the murder trial of Charlie Manson and his "family." Its underlying message is that when it comes to mass murder, Manson was small potatoes compared to the U.S. military's rampage in Vietnam, a proposition so morally absurd it's hardly worth a debate.

Suffice it to say, this Canadian film might trigger discussions at festivals but has little chance to get theatrical distribution outside of its native country.

The most exasperating thing for those who do remember that era is writer-director Reginald Harkema's equation of a hippie death cult with the American counterculture and, just as bad, right-wing bigotry and jingoism with the Christian middle class. Both equations are cartoonish exaggerations that distort real issues of the culture wars from which the U.S. still suffers.

Perry (Gregory Smith) is raised in a conformist, fundamental Christian household ruled by a close-minded dad who wraps all his and his country's sins in the flag of patriotism. Leslie (Kristen Hager), who takes her name if not her personality from Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, also comes from a Christian home before a teenage detour into bad drugs, group sex and ritualistic murder.

Perry, a juror at the murder trial, is smitten with the defendant, Leslie, the moment he sees her. This crush shakes every article of faith about his value system and allows him to empathize with -- and fantasize his own involvement in -- this hippie-dipppie murder cult.

The arch clumsiness of the direction in "Leslie" would make Ed Wood proud. Every scene, from dinner-table conversations to courtroom procedures, has a deliberately artificial, static quality. And characters are mere mouthpieces for obstreperous points of view.

"I love you, but I love Jesus more," says Perry's virgin girlfriend Dorothy (Kristin Adams) as she blocks his sexual advances. "I'm looking for a deeper sense of purpose," says a deadpan Leslie moments before joining the gang.

Perry's dad rages against the "gooks." Charlie (Ryan Robbins) rages against the "pigs." These are interchangeable rages as Harkema sees it.

Sets and props are more representational than realistic. Archival footage of the Vietnam War or police clashes with protesters is arbitrarily inserted into the story.

The most off-putting thing about "Leslie" is that though Harkema sees hypocrisy in every nook and cranny of middle-class morality, he, like his cockeyed hero, romanticizes the hippie "freedoms" of the Manson family.

Production: E1 Entertainment presents a New Real Film production and a Masculine-Feminine film
Cast: Gregory Smith, Kristen Hager, Ryan Robbins, Peter Keleghan, Kristin Adams, Don McKellar
Director-screenwriter: Reginald Harkema
Producers: Jennifer Jonas, Leonard Farlinger
Executive producer: John Hamilton
Director of photography: Jonathon Cliff
Production designer: Mark Garbriel
Music: Paul Kehayas
Costume designer: Sarah Millman
Editor: Kathy Weinkauf
No rating, 85 minutes