"11:14" molds the seemingly unrelated misfortunes of 10 characters into a satisfying and consistently entertaining whole. Dark comedy, which confidently juggles time from multiple and overlapping viewpoints, is a dynamite debut for tyro scripter-helmer Greg Marcks. Pic and helmer's futures look bright.

A zippy and sardonic feast of bad decision-making under pressure, “11:14″ artfully molds the seemingly unrelated misfortunes of 10 characters into a satisfying and consistently entertaining whole. Shot entirely at night, pic’s action takes place during a 40-minute stretch of the same evening on both sides of the title moment. Dark comedy, which confidently juggles time from multiple and overlapping viewpoints, is a dynamite debut for tyro scripter-helmer Greg Marcks and a fine addition to the category of incident-packed films set in sleepy towns where nothing allegedly ever happens. Pic and helmer’s futures look bright.

Marcks exercises impressive control over all the elements in his ingenious script. Narrative is composed of five segments that fold into each other to build a chronology that covers events between 10:54 p.m. and 11:34 p.m., dovetailing at 11:14 p.m. Pic’s visual style conveys the feeling that the viewer is out at night with the characters, all of whom think they can escape the consequences of their actions but who are, literally and figuratively, in the dark.

Cars and car keys are props as crucial as the actors themselves. With minimal screen time to establish who they are, well-cast thesps deliver across the board. There’s a strong “ick” quotient that remains funny at all times, thanks in large part to Clint Mansell’s witty score, with theremin overtones and catchy percussion. Clever opening credits by The Ant Farm also help set the irreverent yet involving tone.

With 11:14 on his dashboard clock, Jack (Henry Thomas), who has been drinking, is on his cell phone while driving along a deserted road in Middleton, a small town whose welcome sign states “A Happy Place to Live.” Jack’s car hits something at a deer crossing. On examination, it turns out to be a man whose head has been crushed beyond recognition. In the first of pic’s slew of panicky responses, all of which are rendered as plausible if none too bright, inebriated Jack wraps the body in a tarp and stuffs it in his trunk.

A motorist named Norma (Barbara Hershey) pulls up and, assuming Jack hit a deer who may be wandering injured in the adjacent woods, insists on calling the police on her cell phone. When a squad car arrives, things go from bad to worse for Jack, who finds himself cuffed with plastic ties because Officer Hannagan (Clark Gregg), who already has two people under arrest in his back seat, is fresh out of regulation cuffs and tired of reading people their rights.

Turns out it’s been an eventful evening for convenience store clerk Buzzy (Hilary Swank), her co-worker Duffy (Shawn Hatosy), lusty young motorhead Aaron (Blake Heron), Norma and Frank’s (Patrick Swayze) pulpy daughter Cheri (Rachel Leigh Cook) and three teenaged troublemakers (Stark Sands, Colin Hanks, Ben Foster). One of the last group is parted from his penis under comic circumstances.

The weasel quotient is sky high and consistently amusing as the characters improvise techniques intended to save their own skins or those of their loved ones. Though pic may strike some as a morally bankrupt exercise in flash and dazzle, it’s actually a morality tale of sorts in which no good comes from behaving badly.

There’s so much forward momentum that the structural gimmick never feels like a gimmick — the information simply flows, with auds gleaning a few more puzzle pieces on each pass. Thanks to airtight scripting and editing, everything not only intersects at 11:14 but stands up to retroactive scrutiny.

11:14

Production

An MDP Worldwide presentation of a Firm Films production. (International sales: MDP, Los Angeles.) Produced by Beau Flynn, John Morrissey. Executive producers, Mark Damon, Sammy Lee, Stewart Hall, Raju Patel, Tripp Vinson, Hilary Swank, Jeff Kwatinetz, David Scott Rubin. Directed, written by Greg Marcks.

Crew

Camera (color), Shane Hurlbut; editors, Dan Lebehntal, Richard Nord; music, Clint Mansell; production designer, Devorah Herbert; art director, Macie Vener; set decorator, Martha Ring; costume designer, Christopher Lawrence; sound (Dolby), Shawn Holden; assistant director, Chris Edmonds; casting, Mary Vernieu, Felicia Fasano. Reviewed at Deauville Film Festival, Sept. 11, 2003. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Discovery.) Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Jack - Henry Thomas Aaron - Blake Heron Norma - Barbara Hershey Officer Hannagan - Clark Gregg Buzzy - Hilary Swank Duffy - Shawn Hatosy Tim - Stark Sands Mark - Colin Hanks Eddie - Ben Foster Frank - Patrick Swayze Cheri - Rachel Leigh Cook Leon - Jason Segel Kevin - Rick Gomez

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