Like sands through the hourglass, the soap-operatic thriller “Frank the Bastard” drizzles out tiny tidbits of expository information scene-by scene throughout its nearly two-hour running time, and when it’s done, one is left with little more than an awareness that a unit of time has elapsed. A nor’easter gothic with a strong sense for its coastal Maine setting, but little understanding of how to draw the viewer into a convoluted mystery involving broadly drawn motivations and thinly sketched characters, Brad Coley’s slow-paced, overstuffed genre piece offers a decent cast, but should nonetheless struggle to do much business beyond VOD.
We’re first introduced to 33-year-old New Yorker Clair (Rachel Miner) as she suffers a debilitating panic attack just as she’s finalizing her divorce. Later that night, Clair turns to her free-spirited best friend, Isolda (Shamika Cotton), for consolation, and she rather improbably suggests that the best way for Clair to dig herself out of her funk is to take a road trip to the gloomy, economically depressed Maine small town where she was raised on a hippie commune until her mother’s death in a suspicious fire when she was 6.
Given her reticence to discuss her past, it’s clear that Clair has some baggage, and her homecoming provides a smorgasbord of revelations to unearth. Not that she seems overeager to go digging: Clair spends the film’s first act either scarfing pills to calm her jitters, or else ambling around listlessly with no obvious objectives, which makes her an unlikely Nancy Drew. Fortunately, when she and Isolda roll into town, half the population more or less lines up to begin slowly spilling secrets. The graybeard hippies at the bar recognize Clair and regale her with tales of their salad days; a tart-tongued twentysomething (Angie Jepson) hastily becomes their new buddy; and Isolda strikes up an instant flirtation with a dashing older sailor named — yes — Tristan (Chris Sarandon).
The only people remaining at the former commune are Clair’s salty cousin Alice (Wendy Vanden Heuvel) and elderly aunt Dora (the late Ellen Albertini Dow), who are both planning to skip town as soon as the bank forecloses on the farm. They agree to let Clair and Isolda stay a while, and the two soon run afoul of Cyrus Gast (William Sadler), the oily junkyard kingpin who runs the town via his cretinous henchmen sons. Not only is Cyrus poised to tighten his stranglehold on the little hamlet by building a gas pipeline, but he also has a shady history with Clair’s parents, as well as a clutch of illegitimate children all over town.
One of these, Frank (Andy Comeau), appears midway through the film. A taciturn, possibly schizophrenic drifter who was childhood friends with Clair, Frank experiences moments of apparent clairvoyance, and seems to know more about Clair’s mother’s death than he’s capable of coherently expressing — much like everyone else Clair meets.
It might seem like piling on to point out that the sleepy Maine town hiding dark secrets is a milieu straight from Stephen King, that Frank’s character is merely a slightly more personable Boo Radley, or that the film’s thoroughly silly denouement could have been lifted from an episode of “The A-Team” … except all of these comparisons are made by the film’s characters themselves. Indeed, Coley’s screenplay contains a few witty references and sharp one-liners, but they often work at cross-purposes with the overall narrative drive, drawing scenes out and stretching believability needlessly.
Fortunately, there are several strong performances littered throughout, even if a few supporting thesps lay the salt-of-the-earth shtick on a bit thick. Cotton and Sarandon have a nice spark in their scenes together, Miner does well enough with a lead role that doesn’t always make total sense, and cast standout Vanden Heuvel proves to be both the most slyly funny and most intimidating character in the whole enterprise. Tech credits are TV-quality, but fine for the budget.