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Monday, August 3, 2009

THE CHAOS EXPERIMENT -- DVD review by porfle

Val Kilmer continues to turn up in the darndest things these days. This time, he's playing a psychotic bundle of nervous tics named Jimmy Pettis, who shows up at a newspaper office in Grand Rapids, Michigan one day and calmly informs the editor-in-chief that he's just locked six people in a steambath in order to demonstrate the social chaos that will occur all over the world in 2012 because of global warming. Read that sentence again if you want--I'll wait.

During THE CHAOS EXPERIMENT, aka "The Steam Experiment" (2009), we see the inconvenient truth of how quickly societal constraints and civility break down and sheer self-centered panic takes over when you trap a group of strangers in a room and turn the heat way up. Especially when most of those people aren't very well-balanced in the first place. Eric Roberts, who recently had a plum role as a mob boss in THE DARK KNIGHT, plays former pro football player Grant, who must not be doing very well these days seeing that he fell for Pettis' online dating service scam. The same goes for dweeby Christopher (STARSHIP TROOPERS' Patrick Muldoon) and hotheaded Italian stallion Frank (Quinn Duffy). The three ladies involved are the gorgeous but hostile Jessie (Eve Mauro), the dangerously neurotic Margaret (Cordelia Reynolds), and a diminutive blond named Catherine (Megan Brown).

After a round of introductions, director Philippe Martinez does all the heterosexual males in the audience a huge favor by having Jessie remove her bikini top, strut across the room in slow motion, and recline invitingly on a tiled bench, all to the strains of Ravel's "Bolero." For me, the movie will never get quite that good again. Soon after, someone discovers that the door has been locked from the outside and the steam is rising. In no time a claustrophobic Frank, who's blood is already up from Jessie's teasing performance and mocking derision, goes bonkers and gets violent, and must be dealt with.

In quick succession each of the other prisoners starts to lose it big time. The weird thing about this is that we never get the impression that very much time has passed at all, or that the rising heat is particularly life-threatening. So the fact that all of these people just freak out in no time flat seems a bit extreme. I'd hate to see what would happen if they got stuck in an elevator--they'd probably start eating each other.

A couple of their escape attempts are pretty cool, especially when Grant manages to break the little window in the door and Jessie pokes her head out to see what's what. Mainly, though, the chaos erupts too soon and escalates at an unbelievable rate until we have people killing each other like wild animals or committing suicide in utter despair after what only seems to us like a couple of hours in the steamroom. Martinez has designed all of these scenes to have a washed-out yellowish hue and uses lots of slow-motion, dissolves, montages, and other effects to distance us from what's going on, as though we're watching somebody's hazy fever dream.

Meanwhile, awesomely cool method actor Armand Assante arrives at the newspaper office as Detective Mancini and makes the movie somewhat more enjoyable for us Armand Assante fans. Mancini hauls the uncooperative Pettis into the interrogation room down at the station and they face each other across a table for much of the rest of the movie. Their conversation is mostly a shaggy-dog story intercut with scenes of the unfortunate hostages, giving Assante a chance to be cool and Kilmer a chance to audition for the role of the Joker in the next Batman movie. I'll eat my terrycloth bathrobe if his performance here isn't influenced by Heath Ledger's in THE DARK KNIGHT, only without the crazed laughter or any of that demented brilliance. I like Kilmer a lot when he's being Doc Holliday, Inish Scull, the guy from HEAT, or even, yes, Batman, but in this movie he just isn't on.

The DVD is letterboxed with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. There are no extras.

THE CHAOS EXPERIMENT is an okay time-waster that isn't horrible but, aside from that rather stimulating "Bolero" scene, isn't particularly good, either. The presence of three of my favorite actors--Assante, Roberts, and Kilmer--is a definite plus, although even they can't do much to liven up this unbelievable and often dull story. A last-minute attempt at a twist ending sends the movie off with a groan.

Buy it at
The Chaos Experiment

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