Generation X reaches a point of terminal entropy in “The Low Life.” A dismal examination of post-graduate ennui among a bunch of over-educated, under-motivated L.A. bottom-feeders, George Hickenlooper’s second narrative feature overflows with awkward, embarrassing and aggravating scenes, none of which is the least bit illuminating about why the characters inhabiting them are so uninteresting. Cast lends this a degree of allure on paper, but commercial prospects are low.
Hickenlooper, whose first feature was “Grey Knight,” was one of the directors of the memorable documentary “Hearts of Darkness” and, just so viewers won’t miss the connection, he repeatedly and shamelessly spotlights a poster for that film on one of the character’s walls herein. But on the basis of “The Low Life,” Hickenlooper ought to stick to nonfiction until he finds a story worth telling and then learns how to present it coherently.
Nominal hero of the script by John Enbom and Hickenlooper is John (Rory Cochrane), a Yale grad just arrived in Hollywood to write fiction. By day he and hisfellow Yalies work separating credit card receipts; by night they hang at a depressing bar trying to score free peanuts and making fun of everyone else.
Abandoned by his initial roommate, John finds himself sharing his rat’s nest of an apartment with Andy (Sean Astin), a geek of the first order whose hobby is collecting and painting Nazi soldier figurines. Things get worse, and John suffers what he calls “a controlled mental breakdown.”
John’s big problem is that he has followed the advice of his uncle not to feel anything for anybody, an unhelpful hint for a writer. No clue is offered as to what he’s writing or if he might be talented, although the odds are stacked heavily against this possibility.
There’s no escaping the fact that John is just a zombie, and perhaps the film’s greatest sin is the neutralizing of an actor as inventive and exciting as Cochrane. In “Dazed and Confused” and “Love and a .45,” he gave amazing performances, but he’s zoned-out here, completely blank. Astin’s Andy is a super-nerd in need of a remedial school for social skills; other perfs are strictly surface.
The screenwriters persist in writing themselves into dramatic dead ends, forcing an abrupt close to many scenes.
Continuity is a problem: John is shown going to work in a downtown L.A. high-rise, but the view from the top looks right down on the beach in Santa Monica.