A Los Angeles fashion designer who took a karmic wrong turn 15 years ago tries to engineer redemption, with surprising results, in “Ripple Effect.” Picking up narrative steam as it goes along, sincere but initially stiff ultra-indie is consistently watchable, with the non-negligible presence of Forest Whitaker, Virginia Madsen and Minnie Driver adding verisimilitude to a potentially wobbly premise. Result is a sort of New Age comicbook with some highly original moments. Not unlike the fashion industry’s offerings, pic will be tailor-made for some viewers and an impossible fit for others.
High-flying, Lebanese-born American fashion mogul Amer Atrash (scripter-helmer Philippe Caland) runs into a financial snag when his backers behave badly. Amer, who’s nuts about his wife Sherry (Madsen) and their 4-year-old daughter Charley (Charley Mae Caland), swings an 11th-hour rescue from a rich friend, Brad (John Billingsley, spot-on), only to see it fall through.
Convinced that negative residue from a long-ago hit-and-run incident is blocking his success, Amer decides to look up the man he accidentally hit: Phillip (Whitaker), a wheelchair-bound lecturer married to devoted sirene Kitty (Driver).
For reasons that only gradually become clear, getting hit by Amer’s car was one of the best things that ever happened to Phillip. No, really. As Caland showed in “Hollywood Buddha,” what his films lack in conventional polish, they make up for with ironic symmetry.
Whitaker radiates mellow sincerity, Madsen is preternaturally supportive and feistily blunt, and Driver gets to strut her patience and impatience on a yo-yo curve. Philippe Caland holds his own as Amer attempts to balance work, romance and fate.
Characters exude the well-meaning superficiality crossed with quasi-profundity that typifies a certain segment of Los Angeles movers and shakers. Terms of en-dearment are overused to distraction (“baby,” “my love”) and shot/countershot dialogue exchanges border on clunky. But pic’s message about pitfalls en route to being at one with oneself and the universe shines through, despite recurring rough edges.