A weekend romp for four middle-aged buddies devolves into a drug-fueled, suicidal hell in Mark Pellington’s ill-conceived and executed “I Melt With You,” a work of extreme self-indulgence that would benefit from the hand of a firm producer and editor if Magnolia (which acquired theatrical rights at Sundance) is to make it commercially viable. Despite the thesping power of Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe and Christian McKay, pic figures to be a tough play on screens of any size.
“Words are tools,” teacher and failed author Richard (Jane) tells his students at the pic’s beginning, edited to link him with stressed-out equities trader Ron (Piven), corrupt doctor Jonathan (Lowe) and aimless Tim (McKay) just before they meet up at a swanky rental house on the Big Sur coast for their annual reunion. Words soon begin to overflow in the establishing scenes of Glenn Porter’s script, though they’re handled as overlapping, nearly inaudible chatter that keeps the viewer at arm’s length from these cocky-sounding guys, all 44 years old and friends from the same unnamed university.
What does come through is that Richard loves the Sex Pistols (he plays them full-blast on the stereo) and says he’s “tired of cynical artists.” Even before Jonathan — the last to arrive — comes armed with a long weekend’s supply of drugs, the guys have already snorted more than enough coke; seldom has a film with a major Hollywood profile depicted so much rampant, constant drug consumption in scenes that play out at extended length, contributing to a film that’s at least 30 minutes too long.
Like the male circle in John Cassavetes’ “Husbands,” this group is hard to get to know; it may only hit the viewer later that these individuals aren’t really worth getting to know. The ultra-male-centric banter runs to the level of “The word ‘cock’ isn’t funny, but ‘schlong’ is,” and may lead the observer to wonder why Richard says of their annual reunion: “I look forward to this, I need it, it’s like Christmas in May.”
In between skinny-dipping in the ocean and rolling down the nearby sand dunes, Tim seems to be the one in the group most willing to press for some honest reflection. He’s also the most emotionally vulnerable, as revealed during an all-night party involving some young locals, including seductive Raven (Sasha Grey), whom he joins for a weirdly tear-filled bedroom threesome.
The second half of “I Melt With You,” unlike the careening drugginess of the first section, succumbs to several contrived scenarios that elicit unintended laughter. Tragedy befalls one of the characters, triggering a soul-baring session that pushes the remaining trio into emotional and psychological realms quite out of character.
More problematic is the sudden presence of local cop Officer Boyd (Carla Gugino), whose sheer nosiness would be the stuff of comedy in a less grimly concocted scenario. Porter’s screenplay uses Boyd as a deus ex machina for what plot exists, and even as the film reaches a ridiculous, seemingly endless finale, the heightened tension at least feels a bit more in line with Pellington’s best films, such as “Arlington Road.”
Jane and Piven have created far more indelible contemporary American male characters on HBO (“Hung” and “Entourage,” respectively) than they do here, while McKay never truly feels a part of this group. Lowe, appearing worn and aged, aims for the kind of emotionally naked performance meant to recalibrate his career.
As always with a Pellington film, the tech package is top-flight, powered by Eric Schmidt’s sleek widescreen vid lensing; Ian Sebastian Kasnoff’s production design, whic contrasts spacious interiors with wild coastal outdoors; and a brooding score by music team Tomandandy paired with Liza Richardson’s ace music supervision.