Review: ‘At Ground Zero’

An unrewarding addition to the already bulging canon of doomed-junkie tracts, "At Ground Zero" marks an inauspicious entry into the feature arena for photographer, actor and short-film director Craig Schlattman. Sporadic flashes of visual savvy and unexpected humor can't cover for long stretches of pointless posing, and ultimately this is an excursion into nihilistic misery that few will care to take.

An unrewarding addition to the already bulging canon of doomed-junkie tracts, “At Ground Zero” marks an inauspicious entry into the feature arena for photographer, actor and short-film director Craig Schlattman. Sporadic flashes of visual savvy and unexpected humor can’t cover for long stretches of pointless posing, and ultimately this is an excursion into nihilistic misery that few will care to take.

After the harrowing drug-world tour of “Bad Lieutenant” and the more contemplative foray of “Drugstore Cowboy,” the reverential detail given to prepping syringes and shooting up here seems hackneyed and gratuitous; pic has nothing new to add.

Schlattman’s direction is more than able, but he’s saddled himself with a script that rarely penetrates beneath the surface of his characters’ on-the-edge existences, and entrusted the central duo to actors who don’t meet the challenge of fleshing real people out of the thin material. Tom Elliott brings occasional depth to the addict trying to save his relationship and moderate his drug use, but as his self-destructing g.f., Aysha Hauer (daughter of Rutger Hauer) is morosely one-dimensional.

The couple high-tails it out of town after Elliott’s character brains a dealer and takes his stash. A patently dangerous redneck (Schlattman) picks them up, and when he moves in on Hauer, they pull a gun on him and snatch his car. Some overdue humor creeps in when another downwardly mobile stooge (Brian Brophy) is taken on board and hilariously recaps his bungled suicide attempt.

Schlattman lets stylized sequences take over from plot continuum for an overly extended period as the trio trips across a barren desert landscape intended to echo their state of mind. When Brophy decides to return to reality, Elliott and Hauer are left to tackle their dwindling bond.

They head for their hometown, where one incisively on-target exchange between Elliott and his unforgiving father (James Hanvik) precedes a violent denouement that’s insubstantial in terms of both the tension that should come before it and the resonating visceral kick that should follow.

In execution, pic is one step ahead of its content, with some minor sound problems the only blight on an otherwise lean but clean tech slate. Less frugal use of Fran Banish’s music might have helped beef up the unconvincingly flimsy atmosphere.

At Ground Zero

Production

A Proletariat Pictures/Roadfilm Prods. production. Produced, directed, written by Craig Schlattman.

Crew

Camera (color), Bubba Bukowski; editor, Les Fatt; music, Fran Banish; sound, Konstantin Von Krusenstieren, Mikki Stitz, Mark Gaddis, Tim Timbruell; associate producer, Ivon Vassali. Reviewed at Rotterdam Intl. Film Festival, Jan. 31, 1994. Running time: 118 MIN.

With

Thomas Quinton Pennington ... Tom Elliott Aysha Almouth ... Aysha Hauer Carman ... Brian Brophy Bubba ... Craig Schlattman Rudy ... Frank Kinikin Micky ... Mikki Skitz Mr. Pennington ... James Hanvik Mrs. Almouth ... Tonei Sackey
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