Another Los Angeles-set multistrand drama “Crash”-es and burns in “Powder Blue,” Timothy Linh Bui’s tale of the intersecting paths of a stripper, an ex-priest, an ex-con and a mortician. The heartstring-pulling contrivances of the film, set during Christmastime, go way over the top, and include a child in a coma, a missing dog and a dying man determined to make amends. Those drawn by name cast members such as Jessica Biel (who pours candle wax on herself during a strip routine) or Patrick Swayze (sporting a ratty blond mullet and eyeliner) will rep the main audience for this direct-to-DVD release.
The first 20 minutes of the pic, which begins Dec. 20 and climaxes Christmas Eve, establish the emotionally wounded characters with a homeless man’s sign, “I’m in need of a miracle,” immediately telegraphing director/co-writer Bui facile everybody-hurts worldview. Tattooed with a giant crucifix on his back, Jack Doheny (Ray Liotta) stands naked on a beach. Charlie (Forest Whitaker, one of the film’s 19 producers — and co-star, with Swayze, of Bui’s previous effort, 2001’s “Green Dragon”), limps to his seedy motel room, where he points a gun at his image in the mirror.
Meanwhile, Rose Johnny (Biel) runs into a phone booth to babble incoherently to her son, hooked up to a life-support system in a hospital room, about how well her date is going. When she returns to her motel — the same one as Charlie’s — she notices her dog is gone; that pooch will be run over by hearse-driving Qwerty Doolittle (Eddie Redmayne), who takes the animal home and nurses it back to health.
As the narrative strands criss-cross, we learn that Jack, released after 25 years in prison and diagnosed with stomach cancer, is Rose Johnny’s father. “Don’t stop believing,” he tells her before another night of exotic dancing at the Wild Velvet gentlemen’s club, run by the sleazy Velvet Larry (Swayze).
Former priest Charlie becomes so despondent that, in one of many ludicrous subplots, he offers, first, a transgender prostitute (Alejandro Romero), then mortician Qwerty $50,000 to shoot him in the heart, without success. Painfully shy, asthmatic Qwerty and Rose Johnny meet when he responds to her missing-dog notice; soon they are sharing the healing power of hugs.
The film’s heavy-handedness culminates in a miraculous L.A. snowfall — large, granular crystals the color of the title — signifying the possibility of hope and rebirth for the damaged protags. Perhaps the greater miracle is the level of conviction most of the talented thesps bring to the overwrought script, though Biel often overacts even more than her role requires.
Bui’s trumpeting of the power of love in the city of lonely hearts manages to be both ear-splittingly loud and tone-deaf at the same time. Production values, particularly lenser Jonathan Sela’s color palette of nightmarish reds and blues and blinding whites, simply enforce the pic’s borderline hysteria.