It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Christopher Plummer taking on the role of Flash Madden. The only fully formed character in writer/director Michael Schroeder’s study of “the people that don’t matter to the rest of the world” (and, in the same vein as Your Mommy Kills Animals—cross-reference below), the capture and euthanizing of abandoned dogs), devours the part with such skill and passion that—with two notable exceptions—the rest of the cast only pale in comparison.
Flash is a former Hollywood gaffer whose well-read background (including quotes from the likes of Churchill and Nietzsche), literally, helps him talk his way back onto the Citizen Kane set after ruining one of Orson Welles’ takes with an errant burst of light. That incident christened his moniker and, along with the frequent clips from classic films, drove cinematographer Dana Gonzales to bathe key moments in flickering frames and filters as the old and new come together metaphorically on the screen.
The other standouts and purposeful characters are M. Emmet Walsh as the famed, now dotty screenplay wizard, Mickey Hopkins and Robert Wagner as the shifty mega-buck producer, Taylor Ross. Hopkins lives alone in unbelievable squalor waiting in vain for a call from his only daughter who lives in New Hampshire—oh so conveniently far away from Los Angeles. As a writer, with no union at the time, Hopkins is forced to exist on his own meagre resources while Flash lives in the cushy Motion Picture Home for the Elderly, whose motto “taking care of our own” could also have added “when family and friends won’t and your decades-long payment of dues is picking up the cost.” Long ago, Ross bedded Flash’s wife then took her away to share his millions. Their scene together, as Flash has to come begging for a bit of cash from his worst enemy is a gem of understatement and black humour. “That bullshit [my success] is the reason you’re here,” says the realistic philanderer to his hapless guest.
The money is required to finance a student-film documentary, being shot over the Christmas break for entry into a film-scholarship-yielding contest. Cameron Kincaid (Michael Angarano) is the hopeful “Man in the Chair” (film talk for director), but has trouble staying out of jail long enough to make the shoot. Sadly, his stereotypical background (broken home; new dad has also been a guest of the state) and apparent rivalry with a bully-boy senior at school (Taber Schroeder) is about as believable as Enron financial statements. Their back-story is fluffed over and Angarano is just too likeable, which makes the beating-in-the-bowling-alley scene ring as false as Flash’s gratuitous pinch to the bottom of a nursing attendant. Also in the where-did-that-come-from? column is the bombing out of the competition’s night-location shoot with the finale from Beethoven’s Ninth symphony seemingly inspiring the senseless vandalism (and another rape of the master’s music). Still, much of the Laura Karpman’s original score works like a charm, with some particularly expressive clarinet lines complementing Plummer’s work.
If Schroeder could develop a production full of believable people and subplots that are discreet rather than hitting everyone over the head with the far too obvious parallels (and snare the talent to bring them to life), then he’d have a film for the ages.
Nonetheless, come for the premise (worn-out drunk rescues at-risk boy from the perils of youth) but stay for the Flash. JWR