Roadkill (that isn't), a severed penis (that is), a convenience store, corpses (that's plural), a wicked girl with too many boyfriends (that's plural too): these are just some of the raw materials that go into "11:14's" "Rashomon"-like multiple retellings of what happened at a rural roadside near the little town of Middleton, 'A Very Happy Place' to Live (so the sign says) on one ridiculously eventful summer evening. There's enough material for three horror movies -- or, with wittier dialogue and more sparkling production values, a substantial sequence in a Quentin Tarantino movie. On hand are energetic young actors -- Shawn Hatosy, Rachel Leigh Cook, Henry Thomas, and Colin Hanks, to name a few; double-Oscar winner Hilary Swank; a brave veteran, Barbara Hersey; and Patrick Swayze (his presence in "Donnie Darko" not forgotten by fans of the young and the edgy) -- a little like roadkill here himself -- gamely playing the loser dad of the misbehaving Cheri (Ms. Cook).
This is a whole flurry of those situations where somebody forgets that two wrongs don't make a right. It starts when a drunken young driver on a cell phone (Henry Thomas) hits something and thinks he's committed a felony. Somebody else finds a corpse and hides it to protect whoever he thinks is the killer. Another guy's ready to commit robbery to pay for an abortion because he thinks he's the dad. A coworker is ready to help him even though it could cost her her job. One character is guilty of multiple deceptions.
Unlike "Rashomon," this isn't so much a single event seen from various viewpoints as a snake's nest of malfeasance's that all turn out to be intertwined, and it doesn't repeat those moments leading up to "11:14" to get at the truth, or run them in chronologically backwards segments like "Memento" or "Irréversible" or "5x2". Eventually it connects something said during the first sequence with a character whose secrets come out at the end to reveal one of the oldest plots of all -- a doomed double-cross for profit and escape -- just like something in one of Geoffrey Chaucer's grimmest, most moralistic Canterbury Tales. There's no divine retribution here, though the local cop takes enough of the players away to run out of handcuffs and get tired of reciting Miranda rights.
Almost everybody's bad in "11:14," and gets worse, because he or she does something naughty to escape consequences and fails in the attempt. First-time director Greg Marcks's dark comedy of multiple self-sabotage and misadventure has horror movie raw materials and B-picture cheap visuals and jumpy camera-work but a conceptualist's intricate and finely tuned plot: the sequences don't leave any dangling threads. The question is, though: what's the conception? What's all this add up to, other than a freakishly busy night for Officer Hannagan (Clark Gregg)? It's a game, a puzzle, without a point. Compared to "Amores Perros", to "Memento," even to François Ozon's chilly "5x2," "11:14" has nothing general to say. The puzzle is well constructed, but it leaves you hungry for something more solid.
Marcks's scenes of wrongdoing tend to the excruciatingly slow and messy, as in the Coens' "Blood Simple" -- which Marcks has cited as a major influence. But instead of "Blood Simple's" hurts-so-good suspense, there's a breathless speed in "11:14" that keeps you watching -- but also bars you from caring about the characters The ingenuity of construction feels wasted for another reason: as in many another film with a plot line wound up tight as a drum, the ending itself lacks punch. At the finale, the hunger for relief and revelation the multiple plot lines have aroused is only partly satisfied.
No doubt Marcks's attention is elsewhere, even if it's not yet clear where. Despite its B style visuals and its debts to the Coens and horror flicks and noirs, "11:14" is attempting a fresh outlook. There is clear talent here. Though the slippery mix of genres may disappoint horror fans, hipsters, and folks just out for a nasty good old time, this isn't mere roadkill. Life remains when all the corpses and wrongdoers have been dragged away, and the hybrid comedic style is very 21st century. Some of the scenes stick in your mind, and if you won't know where to file them, that may be Marcks's point. If he can bring his visual and production values up to the level of his writing and directing skills, he may get the distribution this first film has been robbed of for several years. Let's hope he also finds a little more to say.
Seen during a brief theatrical showing in the SF Bay Area, August 2005.
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