Nineteen characters cross paths and collide during the course of a Friday afternoon in Brooklyn in “Nowhere Fast.” Writer-director Cinque Lee’s script orchestrates the patchwork narrative with a certain degree of skill and an appealingly ironic sense of humor, but the slapdash result is sunk by a sorry lack of directorial savvy. This negligible effort looks to be going exactly where its title suggests.
In a cast of abrasive non-actors (all of whom use their real names in the film), Lee’s on-camera turn provides one of the few high points. He plays a mental-institution escapee trying to get hold of his crucial medication and win back the esteem of his estranged preteen son, Ari, whose role model is Travis Bickle.
The light touch at work in Lee’s characterization and his incessant, unbalanced banter showcases a disarming, spontaneous screen personality and is considerably more successful than the attempts at aggressive, in-your-face drama elsewhere.
Among the principal story threads: Ari’s mother attempts to track him down; her husband is unwittingly abducted by a car thief and then hungers for a heroin fix; an untalented magician bungles her one booking and then turns to prostitution; a female pimp tries to win back her former girlfriend; and a drug dealer attempts to recover his missing cocaine stash.
Lee’s script corrals the various unruly elements into a surprisingly harmonious whole, interrelating the many characters in quite credible ways. But the tone is far too diffuse, sticking with offbeat humor for much of the duration before lurching ineptly into explosive urban violence in the final act. Handling of this climactic action poses no threat to the director’s better-known brother Spike Lee.
The dramatically loaded moments invariably fail to convince, and the film is on safer ground with its gentler observations — in particular, the scenes featuring kids. Some wry humor is supplied in a schoolyard exchange in which a moppet casually asks to borrow Ari’s gun. This is sweetly developed later when she uses the weapon to hold up a toy store and steal him an otherwise unaffordable birthday gift.
But most scenes ramble on without any notion of economy, and technical execution is rarely more than a notch or two above home-movie level. The film was shot in 10 days, and it shows. Lee tries to make a virtue of the no-frills approach, but the klutzy hand-held camerawork and problematic sound recording make it tough going.