Despite the stiffness of the key performances -- including his own in the lead role -- Sean Ackerman evidences undeniable promise as a compelling storyteller and visual stylist with "Straight Line," a small-budget indie that should grab attention as calling card after fest outings.

Despite the stiffness of the key performances — including his own in the lead role — Sean Ackerman evidences undeniable promise as a compelling storyteller and visual stylist with “Straight Line,” a small-budget indie that should grab attention as calling card after fest outings.

Filmmaker runs the risk of appearing impossibly pretentious by using three different formats — B&W 16mm, color 35mm and DV — to differentiate three parallel narratives. But the device proves dramatically effective as well as functional as Ackerman cuts back and forth between the seemingly simultaneous past and present.

Bobby (Ackerman), a Chicago-born twentysomething, moves to Montana after the death of his German-born mother (Monika Franzen). Initially determined to be alone with his lingering grief, Bobby falls in love with Sophie (Shannon Schultz), a beautiful yet restless local girl.

When she suddenly departs to fulfill her long-held dream of living in Panama, Bobby impulsively decides to follow her. Instead of flying, however, he sets out to drive 8,000 miles in his unreliable Buick. “Since she did something crazy,” he explains to a friend, “I have to do something absolutely crazier to get her back.”

The faintly Bergmanesque B&W scenes focus on the final days of Bobby’s hospitalized mother, who dwells on still photos and cherished memories while affectingly philosophizing about the evanescence of life. (Pic provides English subtitles for her German narration.)

Beautiful shots of Big Sky country abound in 35mm sequences that dramatize the budding relationship of Bobby and Sophie, while digital video enhances the cinema-verite feel of Bobby’s extended road trip.

Ackerman provides welcome touches of deadpan humor to offset the overall seriousness (and occasional solemnity). Unfortunately, he’s not exactly a galvanizing screen presence. Even more unfortunately, he fails to strike any noticeable sparks with co-star Schultz, whose flat line readings tend to dim her appeal as a romantic lead.

Among the supporting players, Joaquin Lizano is a standout in an amusing cameo as a bemused academic who isn’t quite the romantic rival Bobby fears.

Straight Line

Production

A Wonder Entertainment production. Produced by Jane Kelly Kosek, Sean Ackerman. Directed, written, edited by Sean Ackerman.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, 16mm, 35mm and DV), Michael Akman; music, Amy Marie Beauchamp; sound, Akman, Sam Baker. Reviewed at South by Southwest Film Festival (Emerging Visions), March 19, 2005. Running time: 76 MIN.

With

Sean Ackerman, Shannon Schultz, Monika Franzen, Sam Baker, Chuck Sperry, Joaquin Lizano. (English, German dialogue.)

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