The imploding life of a boozing and snorting surgeon grows more improbable by the reel in “Intoxicating.” The fourth film in which lead thesp Kirk Harris (“loser,” “My Sweet Killer,” “Hard Luck”) has written himself a role that encourages rampant munching of the scenery, pic overextends itself by at least 15 minutes in tracing the downward trajectory of an extremely unlikable guy. Though sometimes vividly harsh in bigscreen form, dour drama’s theatrical options appear marginal, with lusty ancillary biz in sight.
Presented without explanation as an alcoholic and coke-addicted but highly-regarded young surgeon, Dorian (Harris) goes straight from bar crawls and all-night coke and sex sessions into the operating room. This is one doc who would be right at home in Paddy Chayefsky’s “The Hospital.”
A bit of sympathy is carved out for Dorian when he visits his father William (John Savage), a former prize fighter suffering from pugilistic dementia who barely recognizes Dorian. Barkeep and casual g.f. Megan (Laurie Baranyay) offers love and nice vibes, but appears clueless about Dorian’s substance abuse. He becomes such a nervous wreck from lack of sleep that his hand shakes pouring coffee just before another surgery.
All of this provides plenty for Harris to play with, but he tends to always go a few lengths too far as an actor, seldom trusting in the reliable notion that less is more. His script, based on the story co-written with jack-of-all-trades filmmaker Mark David (helmer, lenser, co-editor and co-composer), similarly pushes obvious points well past their prime dramatic impact, so that Dorian’s sorry tale becomes more of a nightmarish cartoon than a tragedy etched in pain.
Dramatic problems are only heightened by the presence of Megan’s longtime friend Anna (Camilla Overbye Roos), who’s introduced as having lost her young boy in a drunk-driving accident. She not only falls in love with Dorian, but indulges in lengthy drinking and drug sessions and then sex adventures at the home of Dorian’s sleazy drug connection Teddy (Eric Roberts). Had this been a full-on made-for-cable exploiter, Anna’s character probably would have been turned into an improbable soft-core lust object; the fact that she remains a humanized if flawed woman in this treatment is laudable.
But her inability to say no to a man who indulges his worst appetites, going against everything her life has suggested up to that point is a paradox that “Intoxicated” is unable or unwilling to address. Nonetheless, after a long, glum slide, pic becomes an unconvincing story of redemption.
Among several less than inspired perfs (especially from Roos and Savage, who has used up his variations on men who’ve lost their marbles), Roberts stands out in a fine, nuanced portrayal of that rare movie drug dealer who considers the feelings of others. It’s just the kind of role that Roberts has previously undermined with his weakness for off-the-map indulgences.
Deployment of zooms and rack-focus comes off as a misguided stab at funky ’70s-style, and sheer repetition of staging devices and ultra-wide lenses with bleached images for druggy effects borders on the risible. A firmer hand was called for to trim down several scenes that spin their wheels. Pic represents one of several recent cases (such as “Wonderland” and “Shade”) of a keen use of realistic Los Angeles locales.