There’s nothing wrong with “Dead Cool” that a further rewrite and slicker direction couldn’t fix. London-set light relationships comedy centered on a teen boy coming to grips with his mom’s new boyfriend and the memory of his late father boasts good performances but is let down by weak dialogue and an unfocused feel. Indie production got a limited release in Blighty in June and is solid fodder for tube programmers.
Writer-director David Cohen has been making occasional features (“The Pleasure Principle,” “Solo Shuttle”) for well over a decade, and there’s no doubting his mainstream sensibility. From its casting to the script’s basically sound structure, “Dead Cool” is his most accomplished pic to date, though there’s a frustrating feeling throughout that it could have been better.
Newcomer Steven Geller shows considerable screen presence as 15-year-old David, whose father Josh (James Callis), a human rights lawyer, was killed in a bus accident some seven years ago. Josh’s ghost reappears to David just when he’s in danger of being forgotten by his family — one of several themes kicked around by the script is how ghosts are kept alive by their loved ones’ memories. His appearance also coincides with David’s mom, Henny (Imogen Stubbs), finding a new man.
Man is TV reporter Mark (Anthony Calf), a divorced father of two who’s achingly New Age, a 100% Mr. Nice Guy and — much to the disgust of David’s grandmother (veteran Liz Smith) — a vegetarian.
David and his younger brother George (Aaron Johnson) dislike him on principle, and Josh’s ghost thinks he’s a putz.
Script ups the character ante when Henny decides to move in with Mark, not realizing that Mark’s ex, Deidre (Rosanna Arquette), lives just round the corner with their two daughters, Sue (Gemma Lawrence) and Em (Olivia Wedderburn). Deidre, a Yank, has authored a self-help bestseller, “The Stepfamily’s Bible,” and soon everyone, including Deidre’s black boytoy (Martin Cole), is in each other’s face.
Film takes comic potshots at old and new attitudes to relationships and living, but never really cuts to the bone in its satire. There’s also too much of a right-on, media-trendy feel to the characters that weakens the script’s broader observations, as well as considerable time spent on David’s half-Jewish provenance (mom is a gentile) that doesn’t have much to do with anything.
Still, pic does have its moments, and Geller gets good support on the younger side from Lawrence as a precocious teen and Johnson as his geeky younger brother. Both Stubbs and Arquette are very good as the women in Mark’s life — the former making Henny more than just a lonely widow, the latter avoiding a cliched, can-do Yank — while Calf and Callis are OK as the men.
As in “The Pleasure Principle,” Cohen shows an undogmatic attitude toward sexual bonding (of all ages) that’s refreshing, though script’s conclusion is disappointingly conventional. Tech package is modest but pro on all levels.