'The Toy Soldiers': Film Review

The Toy Soldiers Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Mance Media

The Toy Soldiers Still - H 2014

A not-so-convincing teenage wasteland

Erik Peter Carlson's 80's set drama depicts the interactions among a group of angst-ridden teenagers

Cross American Graffiti with The Last Picture Show and you'll get some idea of Erick Peter Carlson's (Transatlantic Coffee) overheated, overlong chronicle of teen angst set in 1980s-era Southern California. Although clearly heartfelt and undeniably ambitious in its convoluted narrative structure, The Toy Soldiers features too many cringe-worthy moments and is too diffuse to have its intended dramatic impact. Featuring less than impressive performances from its mostly young ensemble, the film seems destined for a quick fade from theaters.

Taking place entirely over the course of a single evening marking the closing of the teens' unofficial roller rink hangout, it features a wide variety of characters, many of them given individual attention in individual but interwoven segments. They include Jack (Samuel Nolan), in desperate turmoil over his closeted homosexuality; his older brother Elliot (Chandler Rylko), whose hook-up with Angel (Najarra Townsend) culminates with her revealing a dark secret from her past that defies credulity; their mother Mary (Constance Brenneman), a divorced high-school teacher who drowns her sorrows in booze and  sex with her students; the nerdy, powder blue tuxedo-wearing Steve "The Peeve" (Nick Frangione), who pines for rink employee/part-time prostitute Layla (Jeanette May); and the Tourette's Syndrome-afflicted Harold (Izzy Pollak), who says admiringly of her, "Look at that sweet ass…I'd like to suck on it while I play Kong."

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Playing fast and loose with its timeline—we hear an announcement of John Lennon's 1980 killing while other references seem to place the action later in the decade—The Toy Soldiers piles on a surfeit of melodramatic incidents that makes its sleepy setting seem reminiscent of Peyton Place. Although some individual moments register with dramatic force, their sheer accumulation over the course of a punishing, nearly two-and-a-half hours proves wearisome. Not helping matters is the mannered, unconvincing dialogue that hammers home the film's themes in overly obvious fashion. Tech credits are reflective of the obviously ultra-low budget.

Production: Riding Hood Motion Pictures
Cast: Constance Brenneman, Chandler Rylko, Najarra Townsend, Jeanette May, Nick Frangione, Samuel Nolan, Thatcher Robinson, Megan Hensley
Director/screenwriter/producer: Erik Peter Carlson
Executive producers: Mark Baier, Erik Peter Carlson, Jeremy Castillo, Sk Manirul Haque, Karla Munoz, Aryabela Nayak, Bhushan Pachpande, Manoj Nayak, Theo Oyagha, Angie Tjimis, Terry Vanderheyden, Joe Z. Islam, Shane Carlson
Director of photography: Dan Witrock
Production designer: Mark Macauley
Editor: Alex Bordino
Costume designer: Matthew Peridis
Composer: Nathaniel Levisay

Rated R, 144 min.