The Big Empty

The Big Empty" is titled all too accurately. Umpteenth cinematic canvassing of Chandleresque territory finds L.A.'s mean streets looking very tired indeed, as a sad-sack gumshoe pursues a desultory case with no elan or humor. Even genre fans will find this one slow going, and few commercial prospects are indicated. In a first feature by former NYU film school collaborators, director Jack Perez and writer-star James McManus display a clear affection for, and knowledge of, the mystery format, but advance no case for how the romantic and narrative allure of classic noir dramas could be legitimately adapted for '90s audiences.

With:
Lloyd Meadows ..... James McManus Peter Danforth ..... Pablo Bryant Jane Danforth ..... Ellen Goldwasser J.W. McCreedy ..... H.M. Wynant

Indeed, after admitting at the outset that he’s a loser, the dour, pasty-faced, ratty-apartment-dwelling Lloyd Meadows (McManus) further confesses that he became a private investigator because it seemed like “something romantic without the hassles of actual romance.” Despite the lack of confidence he inspires, he nonetheless gets a gig from a neurotic blonde, Jane Danforth (Ellen Goldwasser), who needs Lloyd to get the goods on her cheating husband, high-minded homeless-shelter worker Peter (Pablo Bryant).

To get close to Peter, Lloyd poses as a homeless fellow, which isn’t much of a stretch, and he ultimately produces a video of Peter involved in some particularly unseemly activity with one of his charges. He also goes well beyond the limits of professional ethics by bugging Peter and Jane’s house, the better to eavesdrop on their private arguments.

Before it’s all over, Lloyd finds out more than anyone involved could possibly have wanted to know, and reconfirms his status as a major-league sap by becoming too personally involved in his case.

Sluggish pic is wallpapered by depressive, self-deprecating commentary from Lloyd, and while the characters and situations are not remotely involving, some of the writing in the stretches of sustained dialogue isn’t bad. The direction and $165,000 budget don’t begin to permit the creation of a seductively noirish visual style, so what mood the film does possess stems largely from Jean-Michel Michenaud’s flavorsome jazz score. Performances are not alluring.

The Big Empty

Production: A Left of Center Prods. presentation. Produced by Michael Shevloff. Executive producers, Nick Shevloff, Chris Cowan, Jean-Michel Michenaud. Directed by Jack Perez. Screenplay, James McManus, story by McManus, Perez

Crew: Camera (Foto-Kem color), Shawn Maurer; editor, John Pace; music, Jean-Michel Michenaud; production design, Jeff Taupier; costume design, Alison Taupier; sound, Kurt Peterson; associate producers, Alison Taupier, Tara Agace; line producer, Franny Baldwin. Reviewed at the American Film Institute, L.A., Oct. 15, 1997. (In AFI L.A. Film Festival.) Running time: 94 MIN.

With: Lloyd Meadows ..... James McManus Peter Danforth ..... Pablo Bryant Jane Danforth ..... Ellen Goldwasser J.W. McCreedy ..... H.M. Wynant

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