Review: ‘The Small Hours’

Roughly made, intermittently engaging five-guys-in-the-hood tale could connect with alienated youth demo. Lack of marquee names or solid hook, though, will keep "The Small Hours" from being noticed among plethora of such pics. A tightened-up version would still be fest fodder, most likely, but limited urban play is possible. Novice helmer-scripter Derek Dunsay also toplines as Doug, the most sensible of longtime pals who habitually meet at a seedy tattoo parlor in suburban, working-class L.A. At start, he has just been released from juvie --- for a crime the others initiated, presumably --- and it's time to catch up. That means a lot of obscene b.s.-ing, especially from the group's resident nutball, Jerry (Shawn Andrews, who looks like a crazed young Jeff Goldblum). There's also quiet smack addict JJ (Lee Holmes) and weak-willed Steve (Ron Livingstone), a hanger-on who favors cheap Hawaiian shirts. And sort of moderating these would-be white gangstas is FL (cast standout Chris Meloni), their chin-whiskered, slightly older pal.

Occasionally, they leave the nicotine-washed confines of the tattoo joint to go home to their hideous suburban bungalows, complete with alcoholic parents and blaring TVs. Doug at least has a sister (Brooke Langton) who expresses some concern, even if she’s basically a closed-up loser herself, and he has a talent for painting that gives him solitary comfort. The lads also hit the club scene from time to time, usually running into a flaky Japanese friend (Masaya Kato) and some kind of trouble. One night, they pick a fight with hotheaded skinheads, leading to dire consequences.

The skins start prowling near our gang’s hangout, which means multiple slo-mo shots of their muscle car sidling by, backed by an ominous synthesizer drone. It’s effective the first four or five times. Repetition is pic’s biggest sin. Inserts of a tattoo gun piercing flesh, for example, become monotonous quickly.

Dunsay’s desire to break up the action is understandable, since it largely consists of palaver, most of it familiar from every other entry in the “Mean Streets” sweepstakes. But his attempts to leave the chat chamber aren’t always successful: A long, statically shot seg in which Jerry meets the black drug lord (Djimon Hounsoun) who’s hounding him feels like it’s been dropped in from another movie — one designed to play on the racial anxieties of a white audience.

Helmer stirs the pot in other spots, too, as when a female skinhead makes an increasingly whipped-up speech about how America is going to the dogs (even as her b.f. is delivering drugs). These forays are intriguing, but they’re not held together by any clear p.o.v. Similarly, Doug’s paintings don’t illuminate the pic’s emotional terrain, as might be intended.

Tech credits are just about up to the job, with alternarock soundtrack a definite plus. Some trimming is called for, especially since unnecessary time shifts compound the blurring of both narrative and character.

The Small Hours

Production

A Sauviac Pictures production. Produced by Gilles de Baillenx, Sharlette Hambrick. Executive producer, Richard Dunn. Co-producer, Derek Dunsay. Directed, written by Derek Dunsay

Crew

Camera (color), Brian Breheny; editor, Russell Livingstone; music, Harald Kloser, Thomas Schobel; production design, Keith E. Mitchell; costume design, Sara Ell; associate producers, Sacha Newly, Dian Dunsey; assistant director, Glenn Gainor; casting, Rigel Galera. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival, June 4, 1997. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Doug ..... Derek Dunsay Jerry ..... Shawn Andrews FL ..... Chris Meloni JJ ..... Lee Holmes Steve ..... Ron Livingstone
With: Brooke Langton, Masaya Kato, Mike Faela, Djimon Hounsoun, Amy Hathaway, Hannes Frisch, Megan Odabash, Enuka, Dian Dunsay.
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