The encouraging sight of Rutger Hauer as a successful novelist and intimidating literary professor stirs “Mentor” to some spurts of life before it sinks into a dull stupor in its latter half. A promising student-turned-prof’s memories of college life and a love triangle simply aren’t enough to turn tyro director David Carl Lang’s film into anything more than a routine drama that lacks the quirks that invigorated the similarly themed “Wonder Boys.” With a supporting-acting prize at the recent Method Fest for Dagmara Dominczyk, pic may draw modest fest attention, but appears best suited for cable.
In the mid-1990s, Carter (Matthew Davis) was an aspiring author taking a short fiction course with legendary novelist Sanford Pollard (Hauer), who was carrying on an affair with alluring student Julia (Dominczyk). His recollections of this heady but finally disappointing period are triggered in present day by news of Pollard’s death, which coincides with Carter’s own doubts about his future as a college prof with a relatively paltry literary output at this phase in his career.
Hounded by Pollard to write with more style and verve, Carter the student is also drawn into Pollard’s inner circle, which leads to a wild Gotham weekend with the prof, Julia and college gal Susan (Marilyn Conner). Experience, Carter is told, is the best teacher, and the love triangle that ensues between Carter, Julia and a steadily jealous Pollard (during a summer sojourn to finish his latest tome) would seem to provide the young writer with at least a Philip Roth-type tale to tell.
It all fades with a thud, as Pollard tells Carter to leave, and the reunion at the present-day funeral lacks emotion. Pic’s lack of dramatic follow-through in latter sections leaves the impression of a script yanked out of the oven before it’s been fully baked.
Hauer appears to revel in a role that’s all too rare in his interesting career — as a macho intellectual — and doing the mean trick of suggesting the kind of tough, swarthy novels Pollard writes without much of the work actually being revealed in the film. Davis seems a bit too on point as a wimpy contrast to Hauer’s brainy manliness, with Dominczyk an alluring though not terribly intriguing woman in the middle.
Chilean lenser Miguel J. Littin Menz (“Machuca”) creates some visual intensity with tight shots on faces. Pic could have used tighter editing from Simeon Hunter.