Wah Do Dem -- Film Review

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"Wah Do Dem" immerses a young Brooklynite in strange environments, beginning with the emphatic diversions aboard a cruise ship and ending on the lean, mean streets of Kingston. The movie, whose title is Jamaican Patois for "What They Do," is a misadventure narrative, told via verite-style guerrilla filmmaking. A competition entry at the Los Angeles Film Festival, it is sure to draw further fest interest and will be a calling card for filmmakers Sam Fleischner and Ben Chace.

Musician Sean Bones plays Max, a blond string bean who is unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend (Norah Jones, in fitting mumblecore mode) two days before they're to take a cruise to Jamaica, courtesy of tickets he won. In a well-etched bar scene, Max's friends offer double-edged consolation. But no one can or will join him on the trip, so he heads off alone.

And he couldn't be more alone. Decades younger than the other passengers, he drifts through the surreal assortment of activities at his disposal. Slot machines! "Art" auctions! Disco nightclubs! By the time the ship docks for a day in Jamaica, Max throws himself into the local scene with abandon, as if to shake off the shackles of luxury-travel confinement. A few spliffs later, he finds himself robbed. With nothing but the swimsuit he's wearing, his boat already sailed, he pushes on toward the American embassy in Kingston, his only chance of getting home.

Max's openness might have landed him in trouble, but it's also his key asset as he makes his fitful way across the island. Broken-down buses, aborted motorcycle rides and rain-flooded roads are only half the story. There also are soccer games (and the gift of sneakers), the hospitality of a tripping prophet (the compelling Carl Bradshaw, whose film roles stretch back to "The Harder They Come") and an ecstatic party on the night of Barack Obama's election -- the news captured live, via grainy TV screen, by the film's skeleton crew. A full-moon jam by reggae group the Congos, which Max watches through the trees, is a sublime and awesome thing.

As a depiction of youthful resilience, the film works, but Max's trials and tribulations might have had more dramatic impact with a trained actor in the role. The immediacy of the filmmaking helps to fill the void, and Bones' unaffected performance has its moments. When, on the last leg of the trip, Max defuses a potentially lethal encounter with a local (Mark Gibbs), he makes clear the newfound self-knowledge and expansiveness of a trying journey.

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
Cast: Sean Bones, Norah Jones, Kevin Bewersdorf, Carl Bradshaw, The Congos, Mark Gibbs, Sheena Irons
Screenwriters-directors-editors: Sam Fleischner, Ben Chace
Producers: Sam Fleischner, Katina Hubbard, Ben Chace, Martha Lapham, Henry Kasdon
Director of photography: Sam Fleischner
No rating, 76 minutes