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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

ROCK THE PAINT -- DVD review by porfle

Described as a "racially-charged fish-out-of-water basketball movie", director Phil Bertelsen's ROCK THE PAINT is about a couple of Jewish white boys from rural Indiana who endure the usual culture shock when their widowed father gets a teaching job in Newark, New Jersey. The older teen, Josh (Douglas Smith) wants to play basketball, while his nine-year-old brother Tim (Sam Stone) suffers from the delusion that he's an aspiring rapper. As you might guess, both come into conflict with various urban black teens in their new 'hood, while Dad struggles to convince the black students in his class that he's qualified to teach about the civil rights movement in the 60s.

Less than five minutes into the movie, I was already starting to hate these kids. Josh and Tim steal a tractor from the farmer who allows them to live on his land and destroy much of his cornfield just for laughs. This gets the whole family evicted, yet the rebellious Josh is not only unrepentant, but also indignant that they're moving just so Dad can find gainful employment. When the script calls for it, Douglas Smith starts jerking around wildly and bellowing his head off to express intense emotions, but the rest of the time he's barely there.

As Tim, Sam Stone struts around like a pint-sized gangsta, grabbing his crotch and saying stuff like "F--- off, beeyotch!" in what I assume is intended to be comedy relief. In short, he's one of those obnoxious child actors who, instead of really acting, broadly mimics adult performances he's seen. Meanwhile, Christopher Innvar as Dad is about as charismatic as Stephen Lack in SCANNERS.

The black characters consist of the usual types you'd expect. There's Antwon (Kevin Phillips), who's initially hostile toward Josh but warms up to him when they end up on the same Catholic school basketball team. Jas Anderson plays T-Bone, the vile-o-lent tough guy who hates Josh and resents Antwon for betraying their friendship, eventually switching schools and joining the bad guy basketball team. Antwon's deaf sister Keisha (Joanna Hartshorne) provides a momentary bright spot in the story as she and Josh tentatively begin a romantic relationship, but this doesn't really go anywhere.

Most of the story is visually hustled along using montages full of hyperactive editing, spaz-cam, and a nonstop cacophony of songs to clue us in on how to feel each time the scene changes. We know Dad is falling in love with one of his students, a nice Asian lady named Sunny (Karen Tsen Lee), because every once in a while we're shown a few seconds of them holding hands in a cafe or cuddling next to some Chinese dragons. Abrupt transitions lead to scenes with woozy, streaky camera effects to reflect the characters' innermost feelings when they aren't barking awkward dialogue at each other.

Even the big climactic basketball game, presented as a slapdash music-based montage, is drained of any suspense the moment Josh takes the court and his annoying "go white boy" theme starts to play on an endless loop for the rest of the sequence. As expected, the dejected good guy team goes into the locker room down by a huge margin at the halfway point, only to make a miraculous comeback once Josh shows up. The fact that we never see the players and the cheering onlookers in the same shot gives it all a strangely dislocated feeling.

I have to hand it to writer Dallas Brennan for one thing, though--I certainly didn't expect him to end this sequence, and the movie, the way he did. Something totally out of left field happens, and then a couple of brief wrap-up scenes usher us to an unresolved fadeout before we have time to say "Huh?"

The DVD is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, two trailers, and scenes from several festivals, including Tribeca, where the film appears to have been warmly received.

These film festival attendees and various online reviews that I've read express widely-differing reactions to ROCK THE PAINT than mine, so your mileage may vary. For me, though, it was less like rocking the paint and more like watching it dry.

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