David P. Moore’s directorial debut, “Hitting the Ground,” is a misconceived film about the moral and ethical issues besetting an American college campus and its newspaper. Though dealing with a potentially interesting and timely problem, pic’s pretentious aura and rambling narrative should relegate it to the regional fest circuit.
Howard Jaworski (Neal Huff) is a 22-year-old photojournalist who happens to observe and photograph a student as she jumps to her death from a high-rise dormitory. Instead of reporting the case, he decides to conceal the coveted footage from selfish newspaper editor Alex (Rik Walter). Soon, however, Howard is stalked and brutalized by the power-hungry editor, who’s determined to advance his career at the expense of all moral and professional standards. When the photos are finally published, they trigger a violent chain reaction of serial suicides, racial confrontations and chaos that requires police interference.
This is the kind of film where students are never seen in the classroom. Most of it is set outdoors on the grass, where Howard takes refuge and “entertains” various visitors and friends, like his zany, loyal comrade Jillie (Anney Giobbe). In the midst of his deep personal crisis, Howard forgets his problems and pursues a beautiful student (Daintry Jensen).
Like John Singleton’s “Higher Learning,” which was far more absorbing but also messy, “Hitting the Ground” is a failed effort at sharp commentary on the political divisiveness of American colleges today and the negative role of the news media. The story comes to life sporadically, as in the scenes with Jamie (scripter Paul Mullin), the campus rowdy philosopher who predicts gloom and doom and threatens to burn himself in imitation of the celebrated monk in Vietnam. But the movie is so blatant in delivering its points that as soon as editor Alex is introduced as a well-groomed, chain-smoking yuppie, it’s clear that he’s the villain of the piece.
Moore, an NYU Film School grad, shows some talent for building tension in routine dialogue, but his film is encased in a cocoon of somber pompousness. Tech credits are mediocre, particularly Louis Bertini and Moore’s awkward editing, which inserts flashbacks from Howard’s youth in an unsubtle, often jarring manner.
Pic’s most impressive element is a radiant new score by Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes, and vocals by the likes of Lou Reed, John Cale, P.J. Harvey, Linda Perry and Mary Lou Lord.