'Old Fashioned': Film Review

Courtesy of Freestyle Releasing
The Red Room of Pain suddenly doesn't seem that bad

Rik Swartzwelder's faith-based romantic drama is positioning itself as a wholesome Valentine's Day weekend alternative to "50 Shades of Grey"

Forget 50 Shades of Grey. A far more painful depiction of an emotionally abusive sadomasochistic relationship has arrived in the form of Rik Swartzwelder's directorial debut, presenting itself as a sort of faith-based alternative to that naughty blockbuster. Depicting the tortured courtship between a former Girl's Gone Wild-style exploiter of women turned chaste gentleman and the unfortunate young woman who inexplicably comes under his spell, Old Fashioned is not so much old fashioned as it is positively archaic.

The director/screenwriter also plays the central role of Clay, a small-town Ohio antique dealer so demure that he refuses to be alone in a room with any woman who's not his wife. A former frat boy with a checkered past, he's now a paragon of virtue, causing no end of befuddlement on the part of Amber (Elizabeth Roberts), the attractive young woman who's rented an apartment above his titular store.

Amber has a bit of a history herself, with the cast on her wrist evidence of a former relationship turned abusively violent. She's wound up in the small town after impulsively getting in her car with all of her possessions, including her cat, and simply driving until she ran out of gas.

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Speaking of running out of gas, that happens very early on in the painfully tedious proceedings which find Amber eager to pursue a relationship with a man who literally makes her stand outside in the cold as he makes repairs in her apartment.

"Am I boring?" he asks her at one point, to which she replies, "In a good way."

Well, no. To the filmmaker's credit, he does at least provide one voice-of-reason character, Clay's great-aunt, who announces, in a sentiment bound to be shared by virtually every member of the audience, "This is getting painful!" Later she tells Clay, "If you were any more self-absorbed you'd be a dot…I'd like to wring your neck!"

Swartzwelder, whose way of portraying soulfulness and integrity is to stare forlornly in the distance while presumably thinking deep thoughts, doesn't exactly make for a credible romantic lead with his baggy sweatshirts and mom jeans. And while Roberts is appealing as the object of his seeming indifference, she's unable to make credible her character's attraction to a man whose idea of a date is taking her to see a priest to explore their compatibility.

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The characters are defined by all too obvious traits: Clay's favorite movie is Meet John Doe; his black friend David (LeJon Woods) loves basketball; and his other friend Brad (Tyler Hollinger) is a misogynistic, shock-jock radio show host.

Culminating in the sort of forced romantic ending in which Clay woos Amber with enough candles to start a blazing inferno, Old Fashioned is simply infuriating in its self-perceived nobility. Its ad tag-line is "Chivalry Makes a Comeback," but it would be more accurate to say "Chivalry is dead."

Production: Skoche Films, Motion Picture Pro Studios
Cast: Elizabeth Roberts, Rik Swartzwelder, LeJon Woods, Tyler Hollinger, Nini Hadjis, Maryanne Nagel
Director/screenwriter: Rik Swartzwelder
Producers: Dave DeBorde, Nini Hadjis, Nathan Nazario, Rik Swartzwelder
Executive producers: Rachel Dik, Zach C. Gray, Jeffrey Stott, Gordon Toering, Susan Toering, Bryan Zervos
Director of photography: David George
Production designer: Melody George
Editors: Robin Katz, Jonathan Olive, Philip Sherwood
Costume designer: Erica Stewart
Composer: Kazimir Boyle

Rated PG-13, 114 min.