Reviewed at Raleigh Studios, L.A., April 5, 1999. (In L.A. Independent Film Festival.) Running time: 100 MIN.
With: Matthew Flint, Kevin Walls, Cindy Adkins, Alex Demir, Tracy Grant, Mellisa Lechner, Seymour Cassell.
Insipid, overlong and bloated with the kind of arty pretension that gives indie films a bad name, “Sweet Underground” is painful to watch. A loosely connected anthology of psychologically wounded lowlife Angelenos, pic flirts distractingly with stylistic experimentation in varying film stocks, lenses and literally dizzying camerawork. Though some may mistake innovative techniques for imaginative filmmaking, narrative is hopelessly weak, and it’s patently clear that this emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.
Protagonist Jack (Matthew Flint), a would-be Kerouac, has traded the trappings of a traditional lifestyle — job, family, social respect — for life on the fringes, giving drugs to geriatric junkies. Meanwhile, Jack’s friend (Kevin Walls) searches for his long-lost transsexual mother; Jack’s sometime girlfriend (Cindy Adkins), a would-be writer, prostitutes for her landlady; and aspiring singer Ash (Tracy Grant) pines for her insecure friend (Mellisa Lechner). Linked by feelings of alienation and disillusionment, the characters struggle to find meaning in their lives, but they’re so uniformly self-absorbed it’s impossible to care about them. Mingling of B&W and color film stock feels utterly unmotivated and random. Dialogue is ludicrous and self-important, as in “Love is a beautifully packaged, dangerous thing.”