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Film Review: ‘The Scribbler’

Katie Cassidy's intrepid lead performance can't overcome the limitations of a low-budget comicbook adaptation.

Katie Cassidy, Garret Dillahunt, Michelle Trachtenberg, Eliza Dushku, Michael Imperioli, Billy Campbell, Gina Gershon, Kunal Nayyar, Sasha Grey, Ashlynn Yennie, T.V. Carpio, Richard Riehle, Michael Berry Jr.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2396721/

The growing desire for a credible female superhero movie won’t be satiated by “The Scribbler,” a confused and confusing adaptation of Brit comicbook creator Dan Schaffer’s slender 2006 graphic novel. Despite a game lead performance from smallscreen star Katie Cassidy (“Arrow”) as a young woman with multiple personality disorder and an incorrigible punk attitude, this latest low-budget outing from helmer John Suits simply doesn’t have the imagination or resources necessary to pull off its clumsy stabs at visual pizzazz. Instead, the result resembles what Zack Snyder’s maligned curio “Sucker Punch” might have looked like if it had been made by “Sharknado” producers the Asylum. Prefabricated for a cult following unlikely to ever materialize, “The Scribbler” faces a bleak future beyond the margins of a Sept. 19 day-and-date limited theatrical/VOD release followed by a homevid bow one month later.

Schaffer adapts his own source material here, opting to tell a paper-thin story in a frustratingly convoluted way. Pic opens with Suki (Cassidy) defending herself to a crusty cop (Michael Imperioli) and sympathetic criminal psychologist (Eliza Dushku) after a string a murders at the ominous Juniper Tower, a ramshackle high-rise described as a “halfway house for the mentally and socially inept.” That’s where Suki is released after undergoing an experimental treatment dubbed the “Siamese Burn,” developed by well-intentioned scientist Dr. Sinclair (Billy Campbell) and reputed to whittle multiple personalities down to a manageable number.

Suki also reconnects with old flame Hogan (Garret Dillahunt), currently enjoying his status as the tower’s only male, and discovers that he’s bedded every one of the girls who’ve recently fallen to their deaths from the top of the building. Rather than suspect the hippieish Hogan of any wrongdoing, Suki begins to wonder if her own most enigmatic multiple personality — known only as the Scribbler, thanks to an exasperating habit of communicating almost exclusively through backwards writing — is guilty of the murder spree. And thus a less-than-provocative question emerges: Is her “true” personality Suki or the Scribbler? And is she a hero or a villain?

These early scenes suggest a moody sci-fi thriller, populated by quirky side characters including Cleo (Gina Gershon), a sex addict who treats her pet boa constrictor like a fashion accessory; Emily (Ashlynn Yennie), a rail-thin resident who wanders the halls in the buff due to her fear of clothing; and a talking bulldog (voiced by Michael Berry Jr.) who may or may not be a figment of Suki’s fragmented mind. But they prove to be little more than eccentric dead ends taking up space in the woefully undernourished origin story that overtakes the narrative.

Found-footage-style clips from Sinclair’s taped sessions with Suki and the Scribbler are doled out in a nonlinear piecemeal fashion to gradually reveal the hidden truth about our heroine’s identity crisis. But it’s hard to get invested in any mystery when characters keep babbling pseudo-profound nonsense (“They tell us madness is culturally relative, I say it’s culturally relevant!”) when they’re not busy ranting about yin and yang, or conformity vs. individuality, or quoting Henry Miller or Charles Bukowski.

Misguided pretensions in the dialogue aside, Suits’ filmmaking clearly isn’t aiming for high art, instead taking its primary aesthetic cues from ’90s rock videos and stray anime influences. Suits was surely hampered by a budget more in the range of infamous debacles like Albert Pyun’s 1990 “Captain America” and the 1994 Roger Corman-produced “Fantastic Four” than the blockbuster standards of contemporary comicbook pics, but other directors have done more with less; an incoherent climactic fight scene staged on a rain-drenched rooftop is a particularly low point. At least Suki and Hogan’s bathed-in-blue softcore sex scene could guarantee “The Scribbler” some latenight cable play.

Cassidy sinks her teeth into a role with precious little meat on the bone, proving she deserves a better vehicle for her intrepid star turn. (Delivering a line as ludicrous as “The elevator hates me, there’s a lunatic loose on the stairs, I’m never getting out of this building alive!” with deadpan wit is no easy task. Alas, the tone-deaf Suits doesn’t share his leading lady’s skill at mixing campy comedy with straight-faced determination.) Among the generally squandered supporting cast, Dillahunt hits some pleasing notes despite playing a clueless cipher, and Michelle Trachtenberg seems to be having fun vamping it up as a dark-haired femme fatale who takes a particular disliking to Suki.

Working within the production’s limitations, costume designer Anthony Tran and production designer Kathrin Eder each make a valiant-enough effort to create memorable imagery to rep the standout tech contributions. Alec Puro’s score suitably mimics higher-profile work by the likes of Hans Zimmer and Anthony Gonzalez to provide a grand if derivative backdrop for the underwhelming action.

Film Review: 'The Scribbler'

Reviewed online, West Hollywood, Sept. 17, 2014. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 89 MIN.

Production: A XLRator Media release of a New Artists Alliance presentation of a Cowan/Suits production in association with Caliber Media Co. and Nightsky Prods. Produced by Gabriel Cowan, Ken F. Levin. Executive producers, Kerry Johnson, David E. Groom, Dallas Sonnier, Jack Heller.

Crew: Directed by John Suits. Screenplay, Dan Schaffer, based on his graphic novel. Camera (color, HD), Mark Putnam; editor, Mark Lowrie; music, Alec Puro; music supervisor, Ryan Neill; production designer, Kathrin Eder; art director, Melisa Jusufi; costume designer, Anthony Tran; sound, Michael Halper; supervising sound editor, Joe Barrucco; re-recording mixers, Matt Vowles, Barrucco; visual effects supervisor, Andrew Finch; stunt coordinator, Ray Siegle; line producer, Michelle Poole; associate producers, Sarah Suits, Nicole Jones; assistant directors, Cassandra B. Laymon, Jonathan Southard; second unit director, Gabriel Cowan; second unit camera, Niko Wiesnet; casting, S. Suits.

With: Katie Cassidy, Garret Dillahunt, Michelle Trachtenberg, Eliza Dushku, Michael Imperioli, Billy Campbell, Gina Gershon, Kunal Nayyar, Sasha Grey, Ashlynn Yennie, T.V. Carpio, Richard Riehle, Michael Berry Jr.

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