'Dexter'

Emerging relatively intact from a potentially sententious minefield, Peter Tolan's feature directorial debut, "Finding Amanda," profits greatly from the obvious roads not taken in its seriocomic treatment of addiction.

Emerging relatively intact from a potentially sententious minefield, Peter Tolan’s feature directorial debut, “Finding Amanda,” profits greatly from the obvious roads not taken in its seriocomic treatment of addiction. Matthew Broderick regains his cinematic stride as a morosely wise-cracking television producer on the skids, ably abetted by Maura Tierney as his much-put-upon wife and Brittany Snow as his perky prostitute niece, Amanda. Although it avoids overt moralizing or clunky lesson-learning, pic’s careful balancing act between tragedy and comedy eventually becomes its sole raison d’etre. Magnolia Pictures pickup may prove a hard sell for non-addicted auds.

Broderick plays Taylor Mendon, a onetime hotshot TV producer whose drunken antics have landed him with a fifth-rate sitcom starring Ed Begley (ouch). Having given up drugs and booze, he clings to his one remaining addiction, gambling on the ponies. Helmer-scribe Tolan, co-creator with Dennis Leary of FX’s “Rescue Me” (and writer of numerous other scripts for the smallscreen), has given Broderick a dreary alter ego, with none of Leary’s electric jitteriness. By pic’s opening, the only traces of dynamism left in Broderick’s supposedly erstwhile golden boy are the cynical one-liners he utters, but even these are drowned in deadpan disinterest. All of Taylor’s passion and personality are reserved for the track and the fickle permutations of fate enacted there.

As faithful wife Lorraine, Tierney typically layers her straightforward role with all manner of conflicted, painful emotions when she finally gets fed up with her husband’s lies. Taylor decides to win Lorraine back by finding her errant niece, Amanda (Snow), who is reportedly hooked and hooking in Las Vegas, and encouraging her to enter rehab in Malibu.

Apprising his wife of his brilliant plan requires multiple phone calls, since she hangs up every time her triply addicted hubby leads off by saying, “I’m going to Las Vegas … ” In fact, she has sussed out the situation more clearly than her self-deluded spouse, who, upon arriving in Vegas, heads directly to the off-track betting machines, convincing a floor boss and longtime enabler (Steve Coogan, investing his smarmy, insincere schtick with a dollop of genuine class resentment) to honor his check.

Taylor finally gets around to finding Amanda, who’s discovered cheerfully picking up tricks at a third-rate, Aztec-themed casino. Delighted to see him, Amanda chatters candidly about her work and proudly chauffeurs him in her snazzy new car to her “perfect” home to meet her “perfect” boyfriend, Greg (Peter Facinelli, somewhat one-note as a two-timing, quasi-sociopathic leech).

Decidedly bipolar in its approach to addiction, pic vacillates between the wryly catalogued behavioral tics of “Let It Ride” and the unremitting Sturm und Drang of “Leaving Las Vegas.” The radical tonal swings (Amanda’s jauntiness suddenly gives way to violence and wild weeping), though perhaps realistic on a clinical or even experiential level, continually play out as a cautious hedging of bets on Tolan’s part, if not on the part of his self-destructive hero. Like a high-class sitcom, “Amanda” plays it both ways, as a cool, non-judgmental walk on the wild side and as a bottom-hitting learning experience.

Tech credits are polished.

Finding Amanda

Production

A Magnolia Pictures release and presentation of a Capacity Pictures production. Produced by Wayne Rice, Richard Heller. Executive producer, Leslie Tolan. Co-producer, Mark Benton Johnson. Directed, written by Peter Tolan.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Tom Houghton; editor, Paul Anderson; music, Christopher Tyng; production designer, Erich Schultz; costume designer, Alexis Scott; sound (Dolby Digital), Harrison "Duke" Marsh; supervising sound editor, Eileen Horta; casting, Monika Mikkelsen. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight), May 1, 2008. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Taylor Mendon - Matthew Broderick Amanda - Brittany Snow Lorraine Mendon - Maura Tierney Michael Henry - Steve Coogan Greg - Peter Facinelli Himself - Ed Begley

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