“Little Athens,” a mismanaged follow-up to director Tom Zuber’s similar but better-detailed debut, “Lansdown,” clocks off the hours during a frenetic day when a group of neighborhood teens and early 20s types with zero futures makes a chain of bad choices that leads to an even worse nighttime party. Zuber upgrades his tech package this time with a good widescreen look and a collection of up-and-coming thesps, but his film runs low on originality long before the end, resulting in iffy fest and distrib prospects.
Central problem is one that dogged first pic — a preoccupation with astoundingly dumb or annoying characters who habitually practice lousy judgment. This tendency courses through each of the four storylines in Zuber’s and brother Jeff’s screenplay, starting with fresh-faced Jimmy (John Patrick Amedori), an unlikely-looking drug dealer dangerously in hock to a local bookie and frantically searching for a way out.
Meanwhile, Heather (Erica Leerhsen) works on an emergency ambulance job alongside pal Allison (Rachel Miner), who is somehow able to put up with Heather’s persistent whining and paranoia, directed especially at Highway Patrol cop b.f. Derek (Eric Szmanda), who she’s sure is cheating on her.
Perhaps most irritating figure of all is Jessica (Jill Ritchie), who denies that she’s given royally angry b.f. Aaron (Kenny Morrison) the clap, and is so obsessed at countering Aaron’s expected violence with some of her own that she completely neglects her babysitting chores.
Silliest and least harmful strand involves fired tow truck driver Pedro (Jorge Garcia) and public park attendant Corey (DJ Qualls), faced with eviction and scrambling to score cash for overdue rent. Corey’s kid sister Emily (Michelle Horn), for no purpose, joins the goofy pair on their misadventures.
In a highly contrived way, this network of dead-enders comes together at a party that doesn’t so much resolve their issues as make them generally worse. Despite a tragic grace note, the general effect of pic’s conclusion is a tendency to scorn such hopelessly misguided young people rather than search out their humanity.
Amedori makes his storyline by far the most compelling, one so full of various tensions and turns that it would have made for a perfectly fine little movie on its own. So strong is a sequence where Amedori has to react to a dead drug connection that the rest of pic is a downhill slide.
Garcia and Qualls form an extreme odd couple, pulling back from obvious comic shtick. The women fare far worse here, with Ritchie and Leerhsen stuck with narrowly conceived, deeply dislikable gals.
Lisa Wiegand’s widescreen lensing is an asset, while Barak Moffitt’s string quartet score repeats a theme to annoying excess. Title refers to fictional Arizona town, although actual locales look exactly like what they are — Los Angeles suburbs.