“A Boy Called Hate,” indie-produced drama by debut helmer Mitch Marcus, takes a few unexpected turns while covering familiar ground. Pic is iffy as a mainstream theatrical contender but could generate some coin as a video item.
Scott Caan, son of veteran actor James Caan, is fine in lead role of a troubled teen who lives with his divorced father in a desolate L.A. suburb. His real name is Steve but he earns the more colorful nickname after crudely tattooing “Hate” on his arm aftera run-in with local cops. He gets neither guidance nor understanding from his dad (a good cameo bit by the elder Caan), who is sustaining a disability scam to collect workers’ compensation. Alienated teen takes a latenight motorcycle ride, planning to take potshots at billboards with a handgun. He stumbles onto what looks like an attempted rape and shoots a well-dressed, middle-age guy (Elliott Gould) who’s attacking a teenager named Cindy (Missy Crider). She takes off with Hate and advises him to say nothing about what happened.
Unfortunately, the would-be rapist isn’t dead. Even more unfortunately, he’s an assistant D.A. who tells the cops he was set up in an attempted robbery.
Hate and Cindy hit the road to avoid arrest. But when they’re stopped by a motorcycle cop — who only wants to give Cindy the purse she left behind at a diner — Hate fatally shoots the lawman. Then Hate discovers the man he wounded is actually Cindy’s uncle, who had been molesting her for quite some time.
Remainder of pic is a diverting but routine lovers-on-the-run melodrama, with one or two novel twists. For openers, Hate and Cindy don’t start out as lovers. For a long time she is openly hostile to her none-too-bright companion. She has sex with him for the first time in a truck-stop restroom only because they’re surrounded by cops and she figures what the hell, they’re going to die anyway.
As for Hate, he is much more remorseful and far less violent than the usual protagonist in this type of pic. In a key scene that recalls, of all things, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” Hate is deeply shaken when he sees family pictures inside the wallet of the cop he has just killed.
Adam Beach pops up midway through and steals every scene in which he appears as Billy Little Plume, a madcap brawler who befriends the couple.
Scott Caan has many of the same mannerisms and speech patterns that his father did 25 years ago. He underplays effectively, especially in edgy confrontations between Hate and his dad. Crider has a tough row to hoe with a role that calls for so much off-putting crankiness, but she is never less than believable.
Pic ends on an unexpectedly upbeat note, which will strike some as a pleasant surprise and others as a romanticized cop-out. Tech values are adequate.
A name change may be in order, since “A Boy Called Hate” may be the most unappealing pic title since “The Boy Who Cried Bitch.”