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My title is a reference to Season 2, Episode 13 of the classic sitcom "Taxi" in which the mediocre aspiring actor Bobby Wheeler is describing his latest mediocre theater gig. Bobby says:
"Stall. It's an experimental play about 12 people stuck in a stalled elevator. It raises an age-old question: which is the greater agony-- to be stuck in an elevator or to be watching a show about being stuck in an elevator?"
While "Jam" isn't quite as apocalyptically awful as that, I couldn't help but associate with Bobby's underwhelmed audience while I was watching "Jam" an experimental film about 12 or so people stuck in a traffic jam.
The premise, believe it or not, was interesting, and for a low budget production it was remarkably glossy in its cinematography and editing. Then where did it fail? There were just too many characters that I hated. And I'm not talking about hating the obvious villains like the snobby socialite on the day of her plastic wedding (she was actually one of my favorite characters); I'm talking about hating the characters whom we're evidently supposed to like.
Therein lies the fatal flaw of this film. Its setup is so cartoonishly obvious, bad guy here, good guy there, that if we don't happen to agree with the allocated bad guys and good guys, the experience is annoying. I'll give you an example so you know what I'm talking about.
A lesbian couple is having a baby in the middle of the traffic jam. The script spends 5 seconds establishing that they are the "good guys" by showing a snobby rich housewife snub them in their time of need. So the lesbian couple proceed to an RV and demand entry because the pregnant one needs to lie down. The occupants of the RV have a good reason for denying entry (I won't spoil it), but the lesbians are enraged and commence kicking in the door of the RV, and even after they are allowed in they treat the RV owners like dirt (and of course the RV owners are back woods hillbillies so we too are supposed to assume they are dirt).
My point with this example is that the film draws HEAVILY on stereotypes, and I mean HEAVILY. Lesbians = good because they're persecuted by society. Hillbillies = bad because they are ignorant criminals. Rich people = bad because, well, they're rich. And so on.
30 minutes into the film I found myself so aggravated that I had to take a break and go watch Fox News so I could get more of a fair & unbiased picture. Ha.
Note to all filmmakers: stereotypes are funny within the context of thick satire. For example in "Edward Scissorhands", the syrupy thick satire of a candy colored surburbia was hilarious because the entire town became the antagonist to Edward, the deer-in-the- headlights protagonist. Or in possibly the greatest satire ever, "Catch-22", the U.S. Air Force was mercilessly skewered as a tangle of beauraucracy where generals acted more like Wall Street CEOs than military men. Very effective and funny. But the use of stereotypes fall flat when they are thrown in just because the filmmakers are too lazy to have proper character development. That seemed to be the case here.
I hated almost every character, especially the ones I was obviously supposed to like. For that reason, "Jam" never got out of first gear.
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