Fitfully clever guns 'n' scripts item wears its post-Tarantino colors a little too proudly, provoking an inevitable fall. Along the way, though, there are some memorable moments in Rodney Lee Rogers' Seattle-shot scripting-helming debut. Without considerable retooling, however, insider item is destined for more calling-card action than distrib interest. The Emerald City's well-known coffee culture is the welcome setting for "Steaming Milk," in which Rogers plays Andy Kuchowsky, a crabby cappuccino jockey intent on selling his first screenplay to Hollywood. His boss, a hard-nosed hippie businesswoman (Robin Lynn Smith), belittles his aspirations, and his buddy Pete keeps poking holes in the script, prompting semi-tense B&W enactment of key scenes, using his pals as supporting players. As events unfold over a day at Andy's job, wacky turns with customers and others get incorporated into his frequently revised tale, which involves a would-be screenwriter who pulls off a dangerous drug deal for the "experience."

Best sequence features an enigmatic man in black (Don Bisbee) who challenges Andy’s John Woo-type confrontations (his script has a 12-minute seg of guys with guns at each other’s heads) and then produces a real piece of his own — much to Andy’s heart-swallowing chagrin.

Worst scenes are almost any featuring female characters (other than Smith’s), since they have as much solidity as day-old foam. Pic’s writing is erratic, to say the least, and helmer tries to cover his tracks by including all his own stumbling blocks within Andy’s dialogue. The effect is more tiring than fun. Problem is, unlikable lead is driven by nothing more than blind (or at least sadly unexamined) ambition, and there’s little reason to root for his success.

Final confrontation with a Hollywood bigwig looks like something of an anticlimax, but scene builds into one of the pic’s more probing bits. The producer hands him some unhappy truths, then asks if he knows something about Chekhov. Andy thinks he’s talking about “the ‘Star Trek’ guy,” but the producer is referring to the playwright’s “Three Sisters” and their longing for a mythical Moscow.

Handing over a puny check in exchange for the script, which is probably headed for the scrap heap, he makes a dramatic exit: “There is no Moscow,” he tells the stunned neophyte. “There’s only L.A.” It’s one of the better closing lines in recent memory. But unfortunately, the pic doesn’t end there.

Just when “Milk” should run out of steam (with a fine shot of confused Andy staring into a dirty mirror), it boils over into grotesque melodrama, with the protag suddenly pummeling an unruly customer to death. Effect is as if “Clerks” had ended in mass suicide, and it’s a turn from which pic can’t recover. Rogers would be well advised to drop this absurd denouement — which is played as Greek tragedy — and it wouldn’t hurt to reshoot a couple of scenes with inept femme players. Elsewhere, alternarock soundtrack, edgy lensing and archly droll acting feel just about right.

Steaming Milk

Production

A Chaotic Filmworks/Steaming Milk (Seattle) production. Produced by Lon Bumgarner. Executive producer, Scott J. Sloan. Co-producers, Lapacazo Sandoval, Matthew Snyder. Directed, written by Rodney Lee Rogers.

Crew

Camera (color), Mark L. Anderson; editor, Scott J. Sloan; music, Miles Roston; production design, Brian McWatters; costume design, Frank Avanzo; sound, Scot Charles, Len Delorey; associate producers, Blain Clausen, Trish McGuire; assistant director, Jonas Batt. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival, June 4, 1997. (Also in AFI/L.A. Film Festival.) Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Andy ..... Rodney Lee Rogers Pete ..... Peter Carrs Kristen ..... Robin Lynn Smith MacDonald ..... John Paulsen Ellen ..... Mary Ryan Terrance ..... Bob Morrisey
With: Tim Parati, Van Brooks, Chris Burmester, Don Bisbee, Loraine Jessi Princiotto, Drew Horner, Angela Redman, Shanna Waters.
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