Inspired by a novel from Mainland Chinese bad-boy writer Wang Shuo — and itself filmed, to very different but equally wobbly effect, by Xia Gang in the mid-’90s — “Love the Hard Way” tries to be many things with ho-hum results overall. Considerably less stilted than German helmer Peter Sehr’s previous English-language outing, “Obsession,” the New York-set pic still doesn’t ring true as a love story between a cocky scam artist and a clever biology student, despite a game effort by Charlotte Ayanna in an impossible role and Adrien Brody at his loosest. Theatrical returns look equally hard to come by.
Jack Grace (Brody) runs small scams with his friend Charlie (Jon Seda), posing as cops and shaking down foreign businessman after busting them in hotel rooms with two actresses posing as hookers. However, in his spare time, Jack also has artistic ambitions, secretly renting a tiny office and doodling over a novel.
In a rep cinema, Jack meets college student Claire Harrison (Ayanna), an open, direct type from Maine who’s his complete opposite and, though she can see exactly what he’s made of, she falls for him, and he develops a soft spot for her. Both know the relationship’s bad for them — particularly Claire — but they continue it anyway.
It’s a stretch believing the central thesis, especially after Claire returns from Maine and finds Jack in bed with one of the actresses, but Ayanna’s perf is good enough to give the benefit of the doubt for a reel or so. However, the movie finally jumps the rails when Jack tries to block her out of his life and she starts to disregard her studies in an effort to meet him on his own ground, first by trying to join his team of fake hookers and then becoming a real one. Oh, and a cop, Linda Fox (cult veteran Pam Grier), is on Jack’s tail, determined to bust him.
From the casting of Grier, through the overstated, right-on score by Darien Dahoud, to the details of petty criminal, New York low-life, the movie has the feel of a European director in thrall to American junk culture rather than trying to make his characters and milieu believable.
Dialogue is OK, but its poetic-florid touches ring false in the actors’ mouths (a problem with “Obsession,” too).
Brody just about scrapes through the role of Jack, but the thesp is difficult to identify with in any meaningful way. Aside from Ayanna, Seda contribs the best performance as Jack’s sympathetic sidekick who can see what his self-centered friend is doing to her. Technically, film is pro.