A passable but wispily ephemeral entertainment, “Kicked in the Head” is an energetic New York indie picture with very little on its mind. A solid cast enacting a story almost overloaded with hectic incident keeps this from becoming dull, but the lead character’s off-putting immaturity and the ending’s ludicrousness do considerable damage to pic’s appeal. Commercial future on the specialized circuit looks minor.
Director Matthew Harrison generated critical heat with his previous outing, the no-budget, ultra-edgy Lower East Side drama “Rhythm Thief” (1994). New outing, which is his third feature, offers dramatically improved production values, a strong lineup of thesps and juice to spare, but has little to offer beyond its momentary modest pleasures.
Framed by the lead’s bizarre recurring nightmares about the explosion of the Hindenburg, tale recounts the sorry misadventures of Redmond (Kevin Corrigan), a hapless youth who admits that he’s “going through a self-destructive period” but refuses to consider anything so demeaning as work while he’s “on a voyage of self-discovery.”
Fruits of the latter enterprise consist of occasional versifying in a little notebook, but most of his time is occupied by his lackluster dealings with the few people who will put up with him. First and foremost is his two-bit hustler uncle, Sam (James Woods), who gives the lad a bag to drop off with a connection uptown. Redmond’s failure to do so gets both of them in trouble with small-time hood Jack (Burt Young), although Redmond unaccountably claims that he did make the delivery.
Evicted from his apartment, Redmond prevails upon another tough customer, buddy Stretch (Michael Rapaport), who is willing to take the outcast in but wants him to work in his shady beer distribution business. That Redmond is unwilling to lift even a single case of brew ultimately works to his advantage, since Stretch’s operation is challenged by some gun-happy thugs. The comic violence of this and other incidents comes across with an uncertain tone.
But this is nothing compared with the weird romantic subplots. Leading New York indie actress Lili Taylor is totally wasted in, and entirely inappropriate for, the role of a longtime friend of Redmond’s whose pathetic bouts of begging for the young man’s affection amount to an uncomfortable running gag.
Stretch’s brash girlfriend makes an unlikely play for their guest, but most significant is Redmond’s unexpected tryst with a sexy but depressed flight attendant, Megan (Linda Fiorentino), who initially tells the guy to get lost but ends up bedding him (and missing a flight) after some barroom boozing and bantering. Culmination of this relationship, as well as of the film, is utterly unbelievable, and not even dramatically desired.
Most of the scenes and performances are characterized by the kind of energy one often associates with New York indie pictures. Liveliest of the bunch is Woods as a scam artist whose approach to life is no more responsible than that of the hero. Pic also benefits from Fiorentino’s caustic and suspicious line readings, while Rapaport and Young weigh in effectively with their heavy Gotham inflections and attitudes.
Corrigan, who co-wrote the script with the director, is a naturally appealing actor who here overdoes the grimaces, distasteful disapproval of other people’s advice and manic reactions to the many untoward events.
Filmmakers were presuming too much to think that audiences would get behind Redmond’s dissolute approach to life, however goofy a guy he may be, and to think that every woman onscreen would be so attracted to him. Pic does have its share of mild laughs, and Harrison’s style still possesses a healthy share of the dynamism revealed by “Rhythm Thief,” but the sum is considerably less than any number of its parts.
Tech contributions are sharp enough.