Grifter pic about two losers joined at the hip cannot quite reconcile its various agendas. "Slingshot" succeeds in marrying its component genres only by shifting them all into a minor key. Boasting a strong sense of place and a standout perf by Thora Birch in her nouveau blond period, desultory charm of helmer/co-scripter Jay Alaimo's debut feature should assure it at least a cable slot.

Grifter pic about two losers joined at the hip cannot quite reconcile its various agendas. At once a moody character piece, class-crossed romance, repressed homoerotic thriller and stalled road movie, “Slingshot” succeeds in marrying its component genres only by shifting them all into a minor key. Boasting a strong sense of place and a standout perf by Thora Birch in her nouveau blond period, desultory charm of helmer/co-scripter Jay Alaimo’s debut feature should assure it at least a cable slot.

A short prologue, which foreshadows later developments, establishes Taylor and Ashley as kids on the streets of New York, who share a foster home. Nice-guy Taylor has attracted a girlfriend who is less than thrilled by his aggressive pal, but friendship trumps romance and the boys vow eternal friendship. Cut to upscale pastoral Fairfield County, where the now grown-up thieves are hatching a new plan to bed hockey moms and surreptitiously relieve them of their jewelry.

After some laughably lame attempts by the obviously out-of-their-league lotharios, Taylor (Balthazar Getty) succeeds in picking up desperate housewife Karen (Juliana Margulies), but is quickly won over by her vulnerability and genuine kindness. Ashley (David Arquette) grows more dissatisfied with Taylor’s infatuation, but it is not until Karen’s daughter, April (Birch), comes on the scene that Ashley’s jealousy truly threatens.

Getty’s Taylor is a tad too bland for the script’s own good. With his absence of a dark side to respond to Arquette’s thwarted passion, pic’s love triangle lacks tension. Even Arquette’s volatility, though convincingly menacing, is hardly compelling. Only Birch as an unblinking, fearless chick, wise beyond attitude, commands attention. Her college girl-cool brilliantly embodies a mindset just beyond Getty’s uncertain reach.

Her final scenes with Arquette are the pic’s highpoint as, unfazed by his gun-waving hysteria, she calmly surveys and discards various escape routes while trying, as much out of curiosity as survival, to draw him out so she can figure what makes him tick.

Alaimo and co-scripter Matt Fiorello throw in a cynical Eve Ardenish sidekick (Joely Fisher) for Margulies to work against, and some oddball crooks for the guys to bounce off, including a shapely Russian fence named “Fast Bobby” (Svetlana Metkina). Filmmakers have difficulty keeping main and secondary action in narrative focus, creating more of a sense of unfinished plotlines than of fully peopled milieus.

Pic’s relaxed flow owes much to Paul Daley’s casually scenic 16mm lensing.

Slingshot

Production

A Bold Films presentation in association with Coquette Films of a Mercer Films production. Produced by Matt Fiorello, Jay Alaimo, M. Edward Bass, Jack Birch. Co-producer, Brendan Garst; consulting producer, Daniel Grodnik. Executive producers, Michel Litwak, Robert H. Hultzen, Gary Michael Walters. Directed by Jay Alaimo. Screenplay by Matthew Q. Martin, Matthew Fiorello, Alaimo, from a story by Martin.

Crew

Camera (color, Super16mm), Paul Daley; editor, Jim Rubino; music, C.J. Vanston; music supervisor, Richard Walters; production designers, Kate Duffy, Beth Mickle; costume designer, Jennifer James; sound (Dolby), Kevin Bowe, Jose Torres; casting, Kelli Lerner. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (NYNY competition), April 29, 2004. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

David Arquette, Thora Birch, Balthazar Getty, Juliana Margulies, Joely Fisher, Svetlana Metkina.

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