Thursday, March 11, 2010

Review: "Remember Me"

"Remember Me" is a mess of a movie, but its flaws are those of a cast and crew trying to do too much, rather than taking the easy way out with cliches and familiar plot devices.

The romantic drama has a twist ending that feels cheap and exploitative. And some of the actors -- notably Chris Cooper -- get lost in the ambitious but undisciplined storytelling.

Still, I would rather sit through a dozen noble failures like this than the latest idiot comedy or sentimental pap.

Robert Pattinson, in his first role since the "Twilight" movies made him a phenom, plays Tyler Hawkins, the scion of a well-to-do family who's slumming it in the poorer boroughs of New York City. He's seriously estranged from his business magnate father (Pierce Brosnan, proving once again that one of the few things he can't do is a convincing American accent).

He attends college, but not officially, only auditing some classes, and spends most of his time working part time at a book store, or hanging out in a coffee shop writing in a journal that he shows to no one. He's coasting through life, undecided about just about everything.

It's the sort of role that seems designed to promote Pattinson's mojo as a heartthrob rather than build a discernible, believable character. He twitches a lot and clenches his jaw and doesn't look people in the eye, except for the one person in the world he truly cares about, his little sister, Caroline. Tyler is the classic sensitive/broken soul who needs a romance to assemble the disparate pieces of his lackadaisical life.

That would be a role for Ally, played by Emilie de Ravin (an Aussie whose American accent is also strained). She's the daughter of a tough cop (Cooper) and a mother who was gunned down when she was 11. (Mom is played by Martha Plimpton, who I can't even remember the last time I saw her onscreen, and it makes me happy seeing her.)

Ally's dad compensates for his wife's murder by keeping a sharp eye on his daughter. Needless to say, he doesn't much care for the unambitious Tyler or his horndog roommate Aidan (Tate Ellington). In fact, the two meet the cop before Ally, when they try to break up a street fight. Tyler mouths off to him and so he throws them in jail. Aidan spots Ally with her father, and suggests as a joke that Tyler flirt with Ally using his gift with "that freaky poetic crap" that the gals love.

So he does, but then they fall for each other for real. Friction with the two fathers exacerbates their relationship on either end, which is further strained by other family problems for Tyler.

The screenplay by rookie Will Fetters meanders and loses its way, more interested in individual scenes than any kind of narrative arc. Some of its eddies are interesting enough in their own right, while other times we wish the film would hurry up. I kept waiting for things to happen -- such as the two a-hole fathers meeting -- that never did, and some of the places the story did go were baffling and boring.

For instance, there's a whole long sequence about Tyler sister Caroline getting hazed by some school mates at a sleepover party. Kids can be nasty to each other, and I don't want to minimize the effects of bullying. But the way the entire Hawkins clan goes into crisis mode over some pretty mild behavior seemed way overblown. Tyler's super-busy father, who doesn't even bother to acknowledge his son's 22nd birthday, stops everything he's doing to rush over. It just felt contrived and wrong to me.

The title comes from Tyler's brother Michael, who killed himself six years earlier. Tyler has Michael's name tattooed over his heart, and gets all cold and moody whenever anyone brings the subject up. The movie doesn't really do anything with this information other than use it whenever an angsty moment is required.

The Ally/Tyler romance didn't really do anything for me. We believe that they're a couple because the movie tells us so, not because they seem fated to be together. I also didn't like how they treated the character of Ally's father. He's all rage without any paternal warmth. We never spend any time with him, so we don't understand what makes him tick. All we see is him doing bad things, so eventually we just figure he's a bad guy.

(I will say that if I were Tyler, after the same police detective beat me up twice, I'd be thinking about a conversation with his lieutenant.)

Director Allen Coulter is a TV veteran who made the excellent "Holllywoodland" a few years back, and he seems to have a nice touch with actors but not with the mechanics of storytelling. I really liked the performance he got out of Ruby Jerins as little Caroline -- she seemed to hold all the hope and fears of a lonely, gifted child in her every glance.

I won't say anything about the strange, shameful ending, other than the film's timeline should have tipped me off.

It doesn't work, other than as a purely manipulative trick. For some reason, I want to believe the people behind this movie are better than that, so I'll write it off as a profoundly misguided mistake rather than a cynical ploy.

2.5 stars

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