Had the exceedingly violent and mischief-minded “Crave” taken itself a bit more seriously, it might have been a dangerous thing — a kind of “Catcher in the Rye” for unstable film nerds, a fantasy-fueling picture of a sympathetic outcast with a vigilante instinct and a vivid imagination. As is, helmer-writer Charles de Lauzirika’s accomplished debut feature is too funny and self-aware to be disturbing, but it’s certainly memorable, and should find a distributor and a place in the hearts of genre fans.
Lauzirika’s script owes quite a bit to “Taxi Driver” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” although its hero is neither a psycho nor a milquetoast. Instead, Aiden (Josh Lawson) is a Detroit crime-scene photographer, a freelance portraitist of Motor City carnage, whose conscience is beginning to get to him. In the voiceover that runs through the film, he berates himself for being an observer rather than a man of action (even though it’s unclear what he might have done for the victims he photographs).
His mind is rife with revenge fantasies: While riding the Detroit metro, he watches two men harass a young woman and constructs an elaborate scheme about shooting them; in reality, he walks meekly off the train. Each brush Aiden has with urban crime is accompanied by a scene of what he would do, if only he could. And then one night, after he’s caught up in a bodega robbery, he finds a gun on the street and puts it in his pocket.
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Lauzirika and co-writer Robert Lawton wrap Aiden and his imagination in elaborately grotesque scenarios; in one of the funnier (and more gratifying) scenes, he takes a sledgehammer to the skulls of a long-winded couple at an AA meeting, reducing their crania to ketchup. While this strategy makes “Crave” both unnerving and engaging, it also prevents the viewer from becoming overly absorbed in Aiden’s efforts to remake himself as either an avenging angel or a Romeo: Aiden is understandably enchanted by a woman in his apartment building, the comely Virginia (Emma Lung), who’s in a troubled relationship with the skeevy Ravi (Edward Furlong).
At times, the helmer plays things for laughs when a more sober approach might have been wiser; the film’s playfulness causes the action to spike, but renders the tone more erratic. “Crave” offers some of its better moments when Aiden and his police-detective pal Peter (a pitch-perfect Ron Perlman) engage in the kind of low-key exchanges and situations that cast the film in a classic noirish light.
Perfs are first-rate. Lawson plays Aiden as a shlump with potential, as well as a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Lung makes the considerably younger Virginia precociously sexy, knowing and vulnerable. Perlman is simply terrific, and Furlong, in a limited role, makes Ravi fairly repellent.
Although “Crave” is Lauzirika’s first feature, he is the producer behind the special-edition box sets of “Blade Runner,” “Twin Peaks” and the “Alien” anthology, as well as behind-the-scenes content for work by David Lynch, Sam Raimi, James Cameron and the Coen brothers. “Crave” seems to have benefited, as tech credits are tops. The sound work by Gerald B. Wolfe and Chris Reynolds is superb, and William Eubank’s shooting makes Detroit look like the Emerald City.