Though its makers likely never intended to remake 1958’s “High School Confidential!” for a new millennium, that’s essentially what “Close Call” is, albeit with a bit less camp value. This cautionary melodrama about a Korean-American teen girl’s slide into depravity is too inconsequential and too earnest to belong in the So Bad It’s Good category; rather, it’s merely bad, and after a quick exit from theaters, it may be the subject of amused derision among younger Asian viewers of latenight cable.
Unlike Roger Corman’s “The Trip,” which both reveled in and pointed out the problems with the counterculture but at least had some emotional connection to its subject, “Close Call” looks and feels thoroughly detached from the sexualized youth scene it means to expose.
Beginning at the lowest moment in protag Jenny’s (Annie Lee) young life — when she’s about to hang herself in a dance club bathroom — pic winds back to what got her here, starting with her happy times growing up with dad David (Philip Moon), her accidental glimpses of porn on TV and her real estate agent mom Joanne (Christina Ma) having sex with a stranger, and mom and dad’s nasty divorce. Mom gains custody, but apparently has no time for Jenny during the SoCal real estate boom, permitting her daughter to grow up into a potty-mouthed, wild girl who freely tosses around X-rated jokes in class.
Writer-director Jimmy Lee cuts between past and present with no sense of order or dramatic sense. Worst instance has David, against character, working as a journalist in Seoul instead of living near Jenny, whom he deeply loves. After recovering from a heart attack, he is told by his Los Angeles divorce lawyer, Elliot (Jeff Fahey), that Jenny is in trouble and needs his help.
As if on cue, David shows up after an especially nasty — though unintentionally hilarious — fight between mom and daughter, reads Jenny’s drug-riddled and sex-soaked diary, and demands to take care of her himself.
True to the teens-gone-bad sub-genre stereotype, Jenny’s best friend (Faleena Hopkins) is a worse malfeasant than Jenny. Expelled from high school and dealing heroin, she and Jenny steal Joanne’s jewelry to pay for lost drugs. Pic’s eventual happy wrap-up is a howler of epic proportions.
Rather than taking advantage of the delicious chance to play a wild chick to the max, Lee remains stiff and unconvincing as Jenny. A good thesp like Moon (“The Big Lebowski”) is stuck with dreadful fatherly dialogue, while Hopkins comes closest of all to pushing her perf into pure pulp fun. Fahey (who produced) and Ma appear glum in stick-figure roles.
Pic slights what could have been interesting cultural details of Korean-American identity, while twice inserting graphics indicating Seoul locales during quickly succeeding scenes. Sets and lensing will look better in vid format than they do on the bigscreen.