A wannabe heart-stopper about a multiple dirty bomb attack on Los Angeles, "Right at Your Door" serves to illustrate why disaster movies have always featured large casts and big stars; in this genre, less is less. Commercial chances are dicey.

A wannabe heart-stopper about a multiple dirty bomb attack on Los Angeles, “Right at Your Door” serves to illustrate why disaster movies have always featured large casts and big stars; in this genre, less is less. Low-budget directorial debut by the visually resourceful art director of “Minority Report” and “Fight Club,” Chris Gorak, grabs the viewer by the throat in the first few minutes, but quickly fritters away involvement by concentrating almost exclusively on two characters who are both annoying and boring. Commercial chances are dicey.

It would seem an easy matter to play on public paranoia about large-scale domestic terrorist attacks by creating a premise as plausible as the one Gorak formulates here: On a weekday morning, bombs detonate in downtown Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and at LAX, creating widespread paralysis and chaos.

Shortly thereafter, billowing clouds fill the air and toxic ash begins falling like soft snow. Everyone who’s inside is instructed to seal up their residences, while those already exposed are ordered to remain outside so as not to contaminate others.

All of this is seen from the point of view of Brad (Rory Cochrane), a scruffy, out-of-work musician who lives in a modest house in the hills of the Silver Lake area, which affords a clear view of the destruction wrought downtown, where his live-in g.f., professional woman Lexi (Mary McCormack), works. In a panic, and unable to get through by phone, Brad drives off to find her, only to be cut off by police at every turn.

An ambitious sound mix of intermittent radio reports, phone calls, ambient noise and techno scoring by tomandandy provides information and atmosphere, but once the story settles down from the alarming opening, one becomes trapped with the singularly unappetizing character of Brad, who’s joined back at his house for a while by a handyman (Tony Perez) from next door.

Eventually, Lexi makes her way home, but she is forced to remain outside. So the couple talks through a clear plastic sheet, she mostly in a hysterical vein and he offering up bland optimism, and both using the f-word so often you’d think David Mamet took a pass at the script (one could wish).

Gorak is clearly striving to create a microcosm of the city’s dilemma through the pressure cooker of Brad and Lexi’s predicament, but the attempt at unrelieved “intensity” becomes intensely off-putting in its unvarying obviousness. Leads are simultaneously so on-topic in their dialogue and so inarticulate that you crave seeing how other people are coping with the catastrophe. Cochrane and McCormack, who have been very good in previous roles, can’t provide any subtext or connection to their unimaginative characters.

Going out of his way to avoid sentimentality by not saddling the couple with kids or even a pet, the writer-director briefly brings in a little black boy who can’t find his parents, but then does nothing with him. Ironic ending is a shoulder-shrugger.

Technically, film is adept. Gorak and lenser Tom Richmond have worked out a cool visual palette of grays and blues, and discreet handheld camerawork generally stays in tight on its subjects. The sporadic visual-effects shots of bombed downtown, just a few miles away from the couple’s home location, are completely credible, as are the more frequent glimpses of the increasing buildup of ash.

Right at Your Door

Production

A Thousand Words presentation. (International sales: UTA, Beverly Hills.) Produced by Palmer West, Jonah Smith. Co-producers, Jesse Johnston, Stephanie Lewis. Directed, written by Chris Gorak.

Crew

Camera (FotoKem color, Super 16-to-35mm), Tom Richmond; editor, Jeffrey M. Werner; music, tomandandy ; production designer, Ramsey Avery; art director, Patricio Farrell; set decorator, Stephanie DeSantis; costume designer, Rebecca Bentjen; sound, Gary Day; re-recording mixers, Brian Slack, Gary Gegan; VFX supervisor, Joe Bauer; special effects supervisor, Pete Novitch; line producer, Julie M. Anderson; assistant director, Jim Simone; casting, Emily Schweber, Jennifer Levy. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 23, 2006. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Lexi - Mary McCormack Brad - Rory Cochrane Alvaro - Tony Perez Timmy - Scotty Noyd Jr. Rick - Jon Huertas

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