Six years after the lacerating view of twentysomething relationships in his writing-helming debut “XX/YY,” helmer Austin Chick makes a less distinctive impression directing scenarist Howard A. Rodman’s dot-com-bust tale “August.” Starring Josh Hartnett as an Internet hotshot whose startup runs rapidly through overhyped expectations to harsh marketplace reality, this middling drama has no glaring faults, but simply lacks the intended urgency. There’s scant sense of surprise in a narrative trajectory that feels preordained. Theatrical reception is likely to be tepid, with better payoff in cable and rental markets.
After a brief montage that establishes the historical moment — Bush’s first swearing-in, Tom and Nicole’s split — we meet Tom Sterling (Hartnett) in spring 2001, cockily enjoying his success at a glitzy Manhattan party for Land Shark.com, the company he co-founded with brother Joshua (Adam Scott). Media hyperventilation has sent the biz’s newly public stock through the roof. While designer Josh is the low-key brains of the operation, Tom is the ambitious salesman who’s gotten them to this heady point.
“Five Months Later,” a title informs us, things look very different. Tom exudes as much arrogant confidence as ever, but Internet startups are going belly-up left and right; Land Shark’s stocks are plummeting; its all-paper assets are frozen. Clients impatiently wait for drastically tardy orders while the youthful staff idly sit around. (We never do actually find out what Land Shark does, a deft commentary on how superfluous many Internet boom businesses turned out to be.)
Chief business officers Melanie (Robin Tunney) and Dylan (Andre Royo) are at wit’s end getting Tom to acknowledge the depth of the crisis. But he’s dangerously unwilling to compromise, let alone admit defeat. He’d rather tap long-suffering Josh for cash to maintain full company control, though Josh has a wife (Emmanuelle Chriqui), new baby and mortgage.
As options shrink, Tom tries to win back ex-girlfriend Sarrah (Naomie Harris), a young architect just back from study in Spain. But the outcome here, as in all Tom’s relationships — be it with Josh or his idealist parents (Rip Torn, Caroline Lagerfelt) — is predictable. Rodman’s original script was called “Silicon Alley,” and the NYC locale further robs the story of character. It’s not Hartnett’s fault that in this context, his designer-scruffy veneer becomes all too reminiscent of prior hollowly victorious but redeemable shark types, particularly those essayed by Tom Cruise (in “Rain Man,” “Jerry Mcguire,” “Magnolia”).
Other perfs are solid enough. David Bowie provides another of his third-act special guest star turns as an old-school tycoon.
Production trappings are slick, from Andrij Parekh’s widescreen lensing to Nathan Larson’s pulsating electronic score. But the suspense aimed for just doesn’t come across.