In the press notes for Alexandre Rockwell's "13 Moons," it's noted there are even more people who refuse to go outside during a full moon than there are people who find themselves uncomfortable being on the 13th floor of a building. Whether or not that's true, one thing does seem certain: Audiences will avoid this latest disappointment from the director of the charming "In the Soup" with a superstitious fervor befitting its title.

In the press notes for Alexandre Rockwell’s “13 Moons,” it’s noted there are even more people who refuse to go outside during a full moon than there are people who find themselves uncomfortable being on the 13th floor of a building. Whether or not that’s true, one thing does seem certain: Audiences will avoid this latest disappointment from the director of the charming “In the Soup” with a superstitious fervor befitting its title. Yet another movie in which a gaggle of strangers discover their unrelated lives crisscrossing over the course of a long, L.A. night, “13 Moons” manages to be at once annoyingly hyperactive and an insufferable bore; it’s in a great big hurry to go nowhere. Rockwell and co-screenwriter Brandon Cole have helped themselves to heaping portions of character and plot, but there’s very little here that connects with the audience. Still, pic’s sheer quirkiness (and name cast) ought to score it further festival appearances, and at least a measure of theatrical release due to pickup by Lot 47 Films at Slamdance.

Steve Buscemi as Bananas, a Krusty the Clown-esque children’s entertainer who, in the course of a single afternoon, finds his TV show canceled and his estranged wife, Suzi (Jennifer Beals) confronting his current girlfriend, Lily (Karyn Parsons) in his apartment. When things escalate, and Suzi gets arrested on assault charges, Bananas and his 4-foot-tall sidekick Binky (Peter Dinklage) must seek out the aid of bail bondsman Mo (David Proval), who is in the middle of negotiating the release of Sanandra (Rose Rollins), the chanteuse wife of powerful hip-hop mogul, Lenny (Daryl “Chill” Mitchell).

Pic begins to focus on the efforts of the group to find a suitable kidney donor for Mo’s ailing son (Austin Wolff), and, once that donor is found (in the form of Peter Stormare’s whacked-out drunk), the trick becomes how to keep the donor in the hospital. There are many diversions into how the characters relate to one another — the fairly pedantic idea being that everyone is seeking a metaphoric, if not literal, transplant or healing — and no real sense of urgency for the operation.

“13 Moons” unfolds in the roundelay style that’s suddenly all the rage among indie filmmakers, vide “Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her,” “Sidewalks of New York,” “13 Conversations About One Thing” and the Sundance preems “Love in the Time of Money” and “Design.” Scenes shot by a mini-DV camera in constant flight, even when it should be grounded, have an improvised feel that works against the pic. Pretty much all of “13 Moons” feels like one long rehearsal for a movie rather than a movie itself, with the actors trying their characters on for size and, mostly, finding them an ill fit.

Rockwell’s cast is more than capable, but he has given them very little meaningful to do, outside of enacting a series of hysterical arguments in which everyone’s amplifier seems turned up to 11. Pic has no subtlety, no quiet spaces, and all the noisy distractions seem like half-hearted efforts to disguise the emperor’s nakedness.

Only Vince (who has a fairly moving scene near pic’s end) and Proval (who brings a lovely ramshackle quality to the failed father) escape relatively unscathed, operating on a low-key level, below pic’s chaotic surface. But even these small pleasures are betrayed by the script, which gives all its characters grand, redeeming gestures (like breaking into the L.A. Zoo, or volunteering to give up a kidney) as ways of proving their self-worth.

Despite its outward grittiness, pic has a pervasively phony sensibility; it’s much too eager to scoop all its loose ends up into a neatly manicured package.

13 Moons

Production

A Lot 47 Films release of a Gold Circle Films presentation. Produced by Brandon Cole, Michael Din, Alexandre Rockwell, Jeff Levine, Larry Katz, Andrea Sperling. Executive producer, Norm Waitt. Directed by Alexandre Rockwell. Screenplay, Brandon Cole, Rockwell.

Crew

Camera (DuArtcolor, digital video-to-35mm), Phil Parmet; editor, John David Allen; music, Brian Kelly, Kevin Salem; music supervisors, Lynn Geller, Susan Jacobs; production designer, Chuck Voelter; costume designer, Lisa Parmet; casting, Sheila Jaffe, Georgianne Walken. Reviewed at Slamdance Film Festival (Special Screenings), Jan. 11, 2002. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Bananas - Steve Buscemi
Binky - Peter Dinklage
Mo - David Proval
Lenny - Daryl "Chill" Mitchell
Lily - Karyn Parsons
Louise - Elizabeth Bracco
Owen - Pruitt Taylor Vince
Robert - Francesco Messina
Sanandra - Rose Rollins
Slovo - Peter Stormare
Rick - Sam Rockwell
Suzi - Jennifer Beals
Thad - Gareth Williams
Producer - Michael Badalucco
Timmy - Austin Wolff
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