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Saturday, March 10, 2012

CHERRY CRUSH -- movie review by porfle

(This review originally appeared online back in 2007.)

At first glance, I thought CHERRY CRUSH (2007) was going to be some doofusy nouveau-noir filtered through a Kool-Aid haze for the attention-span deficient--an MTV version of the old hardboiled tales of a doomed man and a manipulative dame who proves to be his downfall.  But director Nicholas DiBella and his co-scripter Paul Root have taken some classic noir elements and given them a modern look and feel while retaining a hint of the zingy dialogue and situations that made the genre interesting.  It's still no DOUBLE INDEMNITY--more like a "teen BODY HEAT", as one IMDb user aptly described it--but at least somebody put some effort into it.

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE redux's Jonathan Tucker plays rich, privileged Jordan Wells, who would rather be a photographer than the doctor or lawyer his parents expect him to become.  He has a way with his female subjects, somehow coaxing them to reveal their true selves in his erotic portraits of them.  Posting these on the internet, however, proves to be a mistake--they are discovered by the faculty of his posh private school, and Jordan is banished to a public high school with the rest of the peons.  Here, he meets a beautiful young cello player named Shay (Nikki Reed, THIRTEEN, LORDS OF DOGTOWN), who mesmerizes him completely and proves to be his most fascinating photographic subject ever.

But Shay will pose for him only on one condition.  Jordan has to follow her one night and snap compromising photographs of her from afar with a wealthy older man named Wade Chandling (Frank Whaley, PULP FICTION'S "Brett"), a lawyer who has promised to pay her way into Harvard but is showing signs of backing out of the deal.  Shay wants to use the photos to blackmail him, but one thing leads to another until there's a deadly confrontation in which Chandling ends up dead, and Jordan is suddenly an accessory to murder.

Enter Detective Griffin (Michael O'Keefe), who wastes no time uncovering all the messy details of the killing and is curious to know what happened to the million dollars that is now missing from the victim's home safe.  He's pretty sure Shay has it, and if Jordan doesn't find it and hand it over to him real soon, he'll blow the whistle on both of them.  Jordan, not really used to having his life descend into a hellish maelstrom of fear and turmoil, does his best to comply.  But again, one thing leads to another, and the situation goes way south in no time flat.

Jordan spends much of the movie wondering if Shay is on the level or just using him as a fall guy, and we're never quite sure ourselves.  As he tells us in his noirish, melancholy voiceover, his life has been pretty much planned out all along by his parents, and it's fun to watch him thrust into the unfamiliar position of struggling to hold it together as those plans keep flying out the window one by one. 

Jonathan Tucker gives a subdued but effective performance as Jordan, although it's at least ten years too late for him to be playing a high school student.  He appears to have bulked up a bit since CHAINSAW and lost some of his nerdiness, but still has no trouble conveying a somewhat ineffectual and easily-manipulated character.  Nikki Reed's Shay is mysterious and alluring, and we can understand how a gullible young man might find himself doing certain unwise things at her behest.  She's nowhere near as effective a femme-fatale as, say, Linda Fiorentino in THE LAST SEDUCTION, although that character was intended to be irrefutably evil from the git-go.

Jordan's friend, Desiree, who happens to be the D.A.'s daughter, starts out as a rather bland character until her inside knowledge of Chandling's murder investigation makes her a valuable, though unwilling, ally to Jordan; Julie Gonzalo's deft handling of the role becomes increasingly impressive during the course of the film.  And I was especially pleased to see how Michael O'Keefe (THE GREAT SANTINI, CADDYSHACK), who not so long ago might've been playing the Jordan character himself, seems to be making the transition into middle-aged character roles quite nicely. 

The film is seamlessly directed and edited, with an appealing visual style that carries the story along without overpowering it.  The only thing that really disappointed me was the ending.  I was expecting all that suspense to lead to a dramatic payoff that would leave me breathless.  Instead, the fade-out came unexpectedly in the middle of what I thought was still part of the build-up. 

At that point, I had to go back and re-evaluate the scenes leading up to it and assess their importance in a new light, thinking perhaps I'd missed some nuance here or there.  But I hadn't.  Not only are we left hanging, but the old noir traditions don't seem to have been followed through as I thought they should have been.  And one of the main characters just disappears without anything close to a potential-fulfilling resolution.  All of which lessens the effect of everything that's gone before.

I liked CHERRY CRUSH a lot, and I wanted to like it all the way to the end credits.  But instead of a killer ending, all we get is a shrug and a "th-th-th-that's all, folks."

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