Review: ‘Soundman’

If "Taxi Driver's" Travis Bickell had wandered onto a film set, he might very well have transformed into Igby, the title character of the U.S. indie "Soundman." But this variant on the story of God's angry man is a road-company version of its inspiration, and won't be among those counted on the cinematic judgment day. Grating personalities and paper-thin logic combine for unlikely theatrical interest and likely graveyard slots on television.

If “Taxi Driver’s” Travis Bickell had wandered onto a film set, he might very well have transformed into Igby, the title character of the U.S. indie “Soundman.” But this variant on the story of God’s angry man is a road-company version of its inspiration, and won’t be among those counted on the cinematic judgment day. Grating personalities and paper-thin logic combine for unlikely theatrical interest and likely graveyard slots on television.

Igby Walters (Wayne Pere) is an underappreciated sound mixer currently lending his art and craft to a Z-grade Western spin on “Hamlet” titled “Dead Cowboys.” Off set he’s come under the spell of Juliet (Eliane Chappuis), a girl-woman who plays a mellow violin. He offers to find her scoring gigs, and that promise proves to be his undoing.

Scorsese aside, tyro writer-director Steven Widi Ho serves up a familiar tale of the Hollywood caste system and how extremes are necessary if one is to break out of one’s rut. Far more engaging films, including “The Player” and “Swimming With Sharks,” have swum the same waters recently.

Where the new outing runs aground is in its failure to provide a single sympathetic character. Igby may have talent, but he’s an emotionally arrested person whose neediness sends you running for the closest exit. Juliet is vain, less than prodigiously talented and has developed a cloyingly artificial personality. Director Terry Leonard (Wes Studi) is a pompous hack, and studio chief Frank Rosenfeld (William Forsythe) is an emotionless bully. There’s less than an ounce of caring to be had from this foursome.

Nonetheless, one has to salute Ho for staying with the downbeat nature of his tale. It appears to be deeply felt, though short of the dramatic hooks that would draw us into these fractured lives. And it takes the helmer too long to establish the tone and direction of the piece, which initially appears to be heading for something more whimsical.

Ho demonstrates an ease with the tech aspects of storytelling in “Soundman,” producing a well-crafted piece on a starvation budget and attracting some solid pro names. Pere is an effective, creepy presence but simply doesn’t have the material to flesh out his role, while Chappuis overstates her part to the point of eliciting unintentional laughter.

Soundman

(DRAMA)

Production

A Mountainair Films production. Produced by Alton Walpole. Executive producers, Eliane Chappuis, Franz Wassmer. Co-producers, Tucker Tooley, Vincent G. Newman, John McMahon. Direction, screenplay by Steven Widi Ho.

Crew

Camera (Foto-Kem color), David E. Aubrey; editor, Aubrey; music, Michael Sterns, Matt Sorum, Lanny Cordola; production designer, Rosario Provenza; art director, Mark Duran; costume designer, Taneia Lednicky; sound (Dolby Digital), Bayard Carey; assistant director, Vanja Aljinovic. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (Cinema of Tomorrow), Aug. 30, 1998. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Igby Walters ..... Wayne Pere Juliet Paradis ..... Eliane Chappuis Frank Rosenfeld ..... William Forsythe Terry Leonard ..... Wes Studi Tommy Pepin ..... Nick Stahl Butch ..... John Koyama Butch's Wife ..... Tamlyn Tomita Kate ..... Liane Curtis Francesca ..... Audie England Duce ..... Gilbert Trejo Duce's Father ..... Danny Trejo
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