Desolation Angels (Tim McCann)

Rating: ** (out of ****)

Good actors are hard to find, and Desolation Angels is the latest no-budget independent film to prove it, I'm afraid. A fairly complex, somewhat provocative, sorta vaguely compelling drama about muleheaded macho behavior and the aftermath of acquaintance rape, it's fatally undermined by its cast; the two leads are utterly incapable of expressing the volatile and contradictory range of emotion required by the script, and most of the supporting players are so bad that I quickly found myself wincing whenever they lurched into the frame. (Imagine that Pavlov's dog expected to be hit with a rolled-up newspaper whenever it heard the bell, and you'll get the idea.) It's a pity, because McCann was clearly attempting to make a challenging, unorthodox movie: one that criticizes society's warped notion of 'masculinity' without simultaneously reveling in it. (Scorsese's movies, for example -- many of which I love -- invariably do both.) His heart is in the right place, but his film is too often sincere where it should be searing. The treatment of the rape is emblematic: McCann wisely opts to begin the movie after the crime has been committed, which could theoretically have resulted in much-needed ambiguity, with the viewer wondering, like our "hero," who to believe. It could have, that is, had McCann not written the rapist as the oiliest, smuggest human alive -- a guy so pathetic that we actually see him petulantly demanding money from his mommy, in a scene with no possible purpose but to ensure that we don't like him. (Believe me, the actor playing the role had long since accomplished this.) The film is a succession of smart ideas ruined by stupid ones; unfortunately, the stupid ones are the only ones that the cast manages to convey with conviction. If only good intentions were enough.