“Live at the Foxes Den” is a film with a noir soul trapped in an episode of “Glee” as told by Instagram. First-time writer-director Michael Kristoff and writer/co-star Jack Holmes serve up Jackson Rathbone as a wannabe-Sinatra-type lounge singer in this tale of a man with a past, but the film is rather reminiscent of Joan Cusack’s line of advice in “Working Girl”: “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.” “Foxes Den” debuts day-and-date on VOD and in 13 markets including Los Angeles and New York on Dec. 6. It’ll soon arrive at a Redbox kiosk near you.
The film is bookended by the arrival of a mysterious package, which turns out to be intended for youthful-looking attorney Bobby (Rathbone, from the “Twilight” series), who opens it and furrows an unlined brow, accompanied by a portentous orchestral crescendo. As the music bizarrely resolves to a piano rendition of “Stranger in Paradise,” it’s two years earlier, and Bobby, still improbably young, is sitting at a table in the titular piano bar with colleagues who fill in some details: He’s dating the boss’s daughter — but not engaged to her, he takes pains to note — and is in trouble at the law firm for doing substandard work for corporate clients he doesn’t respect. As the piano begins the strains of “Old Devil Moon,” Bobby gets a gleam in his eye and sidles on over to sing as the regulars sit up and take notice.
One of the problems is that this all happens in the film’s first seven minutes. After that, the main question is whether Bobby wants to be a great lawyer (though his earlier incompetence, never fully disproved, would work against his prospects) or a lounge singer at a club that never has more than a handful of customers at a time.
The pacing is tortured. Plot doesn’t so much twist as rupture and spill forth, and character arcs, as if part of a case being built by a cut-rate lawyer, frequently skip discovery and are forgotten before summation. One six-minute stretch toward the end of the second act presents — and pretty much instantly resolves — the life-changing problems of both waitress Kat (Jocelin Donahue), who sees a dark part of her past suddenly catch up with her; and one of the regulars (Bob Gunton), who has his inheritance held up in court.
The backstory of acerbic pianist Chad (Holmes), key to the film, is also raised late, much of it for the first time in the third act, as he suddenly battles a drinking problem and darker issues that don’t match the movie’s comparatively light tone. A 12-step meeting at which Chad leads the group in a version of “What Do You Do With the Drunken Sailor” is funny, but undercuts the pic’s later attempt at a serious finish.
Great names in literature and the arts pop up repeatedly, as if simply referencing Shakespeare, Hemingway or Milton can somehow confer writerly depth. Frequent scenes show various characters agreeing on how wonderful a singer Bobby is and, later, how great an attorney he’ll be, as if saying it makes it so. Similarly (and inexplicably), although the club’s sparse clientele appears to be dwindling, not growing, the joint is packed for Bobby’s marquee debut.
Rathbone is an affable lead, but lacks the gravitas to hold together a film that often isn’t sure of how it wants to get where it’s going. His voice, while strong, is stuck at cruise-ship level, and the two-year timeframe works against his efforts to develop a character with a murky past. Holmes, who wrote three of the songs as well as the script, gets off some of the pic’s best lines as Chad, but seems to be acting in a different movie, giving the whole shebang the feel of a vanity project.
Most of the younger supporting thesps, many from the smallscreen, can’t hide their roots, though Donahue has some fine moments. Brian Doyle-Murray as the club owner is saddled with a one-note role, though Elliott Gould, while not used to best effect, gets to sing and dance briefly with Rathbone in a scene that shows off the older actor’s movie-star charisma.
Tech credits create a TV ambience, though Rodney Taylor’s 35mm lensing imparts the textured look of an earlier era. Still, shooting the low-budget film in the pricey format may have been a limiting factor in retakes, which would have benefited more than a few scenes here. Editing is at times jarring, with sometimes risible musical cues.
Since the film clearly will serve as a calling card for some of its principals, perhaps the Edward Albee epigram at the end of the final credits roll is apt: “Sometimes it is necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”