A middling satire, “Chlorine” takes aim at the hollow materialism of an upwardly mobile New England suburb, with Vincent D’Onofrio and Kyra Sedgwick as one couple who have so far failed to ride the prosperity wave. There’s a somewhat dated, familiar feel to this uneven enterprise, whose plot focus on corrupt savings-and-loan associations and reckless development would have seemed more timely had it been shot as originally planned (with different cast and bigger budget) in 2005 New Orleans; that Plan A was derailed by Hurricane Katrina. Opening on New York and Los Angeles screens Feb. 28, with single shows in several other cities, director/co-scenarist Jay Alaimo’s watchable but unmemorable feature will find greater exposure in cable sales and rental formats.
The Lent family seem to be the only residents not living a conventional high life in their glossy upper-middle-class town, straining marital and parental relations. After decades of service, Roger (D’Onofrio) is still being passed over for promotion at the bank where he works, now under a condescending younger boss. The resulting stagnant cash flow wears on materially ambitious spouse, Georgie (Sedgwick), who’s unwilling to get a job herself but still covets the expensive vacations and other perks enjoyed by her fellow gossiping country club wives. Daughter Cynthia (Flora Cross) is suffering the usual adolescent miseries, while more vaguely discontented older bro Henry (Ryan Donowho) is stuck living at home while working construction for a surly foreman (Tom Sizemore) who insists he cut corners (and building code) at every turn.
They’re building the so-called luxury bedroom community Copper Canyon Country Club, a supposedly sure-thing investment opportunity steered by flashy new area resident Doug (Jordan Belfi). Among those seeing it as their last chance to get rich quick is tennis coach Pat (Rhys Coiro), who deals drugs on the side to the husbands (esp. coke-addicted Doug) of the bored housewives (notably Elisabeth Rohm as Doug’s trophy wife) he plays with on the court and elsewhere. There’s something fishy about the deal, however, that’s sure to eventually burst this particular housing-market bubble.
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It all sounds awfully 2008, while also recalling the skewering of soulless suburbia in innumerable films that followed 1967’s “The Graduate.” Some of “Chlorine’s” scenes go for a pat lifestyle satire that can be diverting enough but feels secondhand. Elsewhere it makes wobbly overtures toward unearned dramatic poignancy, notably in a couple of late scenes offering unconvincing assurance that, somehow, the Lents will be just fine from now on.
Performances are all over the map, from Sedgwick’s somewhat shrill impersonation of shallowness to D’Onofrio’s low-key sad sack and other more naturalistic turns. Some subsidiary characters intrigue without ever quite coming into focus, like a wised-up former Wall Streeter played by Michele Hicks.
It’s quite possible that a more nuanced, complex, pointed and satisfying (not to mention timely) original screenplay died the death of a thousand tiny cuts to make “Chlorine” work on its drastically curtailed post-Katrina budget and shooting schedule. The results don’t feel disjointed so much as oddly undernourished and a bit toothless for what’s intended as a bold (mostly) comic expose. Still, “Chlorine” moves along at a brisk pace, with solid-enough tech/design contributions and some good punky-pop by indie bands soundtracked.