'Shooting in Vain': Film Review

Deserves a smack.

A struggling artist seeks closure on several drug-related deaths in this laughably dour indie drama.

Premiering at L.A.'s Dances With Film festival, the ludicrously somber Shooting in Vain — written and directed by two feature-film first-timers, D.H. Nelson and Jared Januschka, respectively — displays its risibility early and often. Sample bit of dialogue, uttered by placid pixie dream girl Raine (Diana Hopper) to her agonized shutterbug boyfriend, Max (Sebastian Gregory): "So you can get all up inside my body, but I can't get inside your head?" A real Bill Faulkner over here.

The navel-gazing pseudo-profundities don't stop there. Check that title, for instance, with its self-assuredly smug double meaning. Max, you see, is a tormented photographer shooting his images in vain because several people close to him died after overdosing on heroin…which you shoot…into your veins. Oh, honey. You might think you're hopped up on skag as the film flits back and forth in time, attempting to sketch in Max's character and fill in the blanks on several events that have haunted him into his promising, but now stagnant, professional career. (Isabel Lucas appears in the present-day scenes as Max's doting promoter/squeeze, leading one to ponder how anyone could sink lower than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.)

Januschka and Nelson are out to mimic the fragmentary nature of memory and also put viewers into Max's introverted, bordering on egomaniacal headspace. His self-centeredness, however, is the opposite of sympathetic. Like many a bad film, Shooting in Vain views genius — of a specifically male sort — as a kind of romanticized affliction to be continually pooh-poohed by clueless, conceited critics, to be ultimately indulged by even the most resistant friends and family, and to revolve around a muse figure (Raine in this case) who will sacrifice everything for her misunderstood mastermind.

What meager value there is here comes courtesy of cinematographer Nicholas Matthews, who photographs the Colorado locations in expansive widescreen, and orchestrates several adept long takes that would be more impressive if the direction, performances and script in any way measured up to his efforts. The tragic places the movie goes to are preposterous, hysterical and retrograde, though Januschka and Nelson treat each narrative revelation with a solemnity that suggests they truly believe in the het-up cautionary spirit of Shooting in Vain's pompous promotional synopsis: "A look at the heroin epidemic sweeping America." I'll toke on Reefer Madness instead, thanks.    

Production Companies: Januschka Productions & China Lion Entertainment Productions
Executive producers: Jiang Yanming, Tom Rau, The Negley Flinn Foundation

Co-producers: Bo An, Jonathan Ward Rau
Director: Jared Januschka
Screenplay: D.H. Nelson
Cast: Sebastian Gregory, Diana Hopper, Isabel Lucas, Alexandra Park, Ryan Shoos
Casting director: Matthew Lessall
Producer: Jared Januschka
Associate producer: Patrick Long
Cinematographer: Nicholas Matthews
Composer: Robert Allaire
Production designer: Prerna Chawla
Costume designer: Stephen James
Editor: Jared Januschka

90 minutes