Life Is Hot in Cracktown -- Film Review

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As for the accuracy of this film's title, "Life Is Hot in Cracktown," it all depends on how you define "hot." If feverish enactments of rape, murder, drug taking, child abuse and transgender prostitution in the inner city fit that description, so be it. By the same token, such imagery has become so commonplace at film festivals, even finding its way into studio releases, that critics have dubbed this increasingly popular subgenre "poverty porn." So for those wearied by cliches about poverty, rote characterizations of minorities and shocks for their own sake, best to avoid "Cracktown." Boxoffice potential appears meager.

The film from writer-director Buddy Giovinazzo is based on his published collection of short stories. His approach is to interweave four loosely structured stories about people living on the edge, addled by drugs and engulfed in poverty. The film opens with a gratuitous rape attempt -- gratuitous because you know none of the characters and the scene has no further repercussions -- and climaxes with scenes of murder or redemption.

In between, Giovinazzo treats an audience to scene after scene designed to elicit an "ick" response -- a cockroach crawls over a child's sleeping face, police discover a bloody self-abortion, a gang forces water up an elderly man's anus. These are "designed" in the sense that none of this matters in the least as far as the stories are concerned.

There's gimmick casting here as well. Beautiful Kerry Washington plays a pre-op transsexual who works as a prostitute to support her and her bottom-feeding, drug-dealer boyfriend (Desmond Harrington). Hers is the movie's one saving grace -- you'd like to know more about this character -- but not for a minute do you believe Washington is a guy. Another say-what casting is "Superman's" Brandon Routh as a druggie.

And so it goes -- gimmicks, shocks, cliches. There is little connective tissue. Once the abortion scene is over, it's never mentioned again. A desperate junkie robs a convenience store in a community where everyone knows everybody, yet no one calls the police. Life in Cracktown simply goes on.

The film was shot in neighborhoods near downtown Los Angeles, but no city is identified. There seems to be no church, homeless shelter or clinic where anybody can go for help. One cop (played by Vondie Curtis-Hall and asked to look very tired) drifts through the 'hood but doesn't even disguise his disconnect from all he sees.

The film short changes all its characters -- the gangbanger (Evan Ross) angry at the world, the young man (Mark Webber) with his new breast implants, the junkie couple (Illeana Douglas, Ridge Canipe) and their two long-suffering children, the 'hood's one good guy (Victor Rasuk) who nevertheless is on the verge of shaking his crying infant son. They serve only to deliver jolts and despair but never take on any life, hot or otherwise, of their own.

Opens: Friday, June 26 (Lightning Media)
Production companies: Karmic Productions, Lodestar Entertainment
Cast: Kerry Washington, Victor Rasuk, Desmond Harrington, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Illeana Douglas, Lara Flynn Boyle, Shannyn Sossamon, RZA, Tony Plana, Brandon Routh, Vondie Curtis-Hall
Director/screenwriter: Buddy Giovinazzo
Producers: William D. Fisch, Larry Rattner
Executive producer: Melissa Wilfley, Braxton Pope
Director of photography: Kat Westergaard
Production designer: Russell M. Jaeger
Music: Matter Music
Costume designer: Lynn Brannelly
Editor: Shilpa Sahi
Rated R, 100 minutes