A middling tour through the now-familiar purgatory of ’90s adolescence, “Edge City” falls short of the distinctive shock value, stylishness or character insight that lent some prior, similar dramas their edge. Sophomore feature for writer-director Eugene Martin looks likely to score just marginal theatrical and ancillary action.
Large principal cast is introduced on the brink of summer vacation, culminating in a high school dance. Two suburban girls, Cherie (Heather Gottlieb) and Suzie (Michelle Seabreeze), are victims of a rude, if harmless, prank by some boys they figure to be “Philly white trash.” By nightfall, the rumor mill has fanned this incident into an “almost rape” that demands retribution – even if no one knows (or cares) who the actual original perpetrators were.
This vaguely gang-ish, escalating tension between kids from urban Philadelphia and suburban Springville proves the film’s rather rote plot engine. But helmer doesn’t do much to distinguish between the two terrains and their populace. It all looks like middle-class, racially mixed suburbia.
James (Charlie Hofheimer) and Allison (Jill Horner) come from opposite sides of the “border,” but as the two most sensitive souls here, it’s inevitable that they strike romantic sparks. It’s also predictable that the most blameless, puppyish kid around will get nailed in the senseless-tragedy climax.
More fleeting subplots involve rich girl Cherie’s bulimia and promiscuity; James and brother Bobby’s (Ryan Carmony) motherless home life, which is not unlike a neighbor girl’s fatherless one; Robert’s (Todd Berry) petty thieving from his exasperated mom; and the under-explained, late arrival of an older friend, Tony (Christopher Kadish), whose propensity for mayhem ratchets up the violence to be expected in the planned “rumble.”
Though the young performers are generally quite good, their dialogue ranges from credible to forced, and at base there’s really nothing very interesting – let alone fresh – going on here. The teens’ sexual precocity, profanity-laced talk, irresponsible pack mentality, alcohol and (minor) drug use aren’t drooled over a la “Kids” or “Gummo.”
But on the other hand, Martin doesn’t render anyone fully dimensional here, either. Where Anthony Drazan’s very similar, in some respects, “Zebrahead” got inside juve characters’mind-set, “Edge City” can’t seem to dig past surface behavior. The miserable-home-life scenes do offer some psychological “explanation,” but only in the most familiar, blunt ways. One small break from formula is that film actually goes beyond its expected violence to show the lingering consequences – though this coda winds up being very preachy.
Visually, pic pursues the “Real World”–type approach – hand-held 16mm lensing, hiccuppy editing, eye-blink inserts of grainier vid footage – with numbing insistence. Over-dependence on close-ups serves to make film seem less intimate than airless. Other tech aspects are OK. A la “Kids,” potentially marketable soundtrack is wall-to-walled by songs in the zone between alternative rock and hip-hop; the few intrusions by Mario Grigorov’s original music underscore “sad” moments with no-brainer synth-and-piano pap.
Running time noted is for press-screened print, which lacked final credit crawl; anticipated complete length is 105 minutes.