Review: ‘Babylon’ (2022), starring Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo and Li Jun Li

December 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Margot Robbie and Diego Calva in “Babylon” (Photo by Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures)

“Babylon” (2022)

Directed by Damien Chazelle

Some language in Spanish and French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area, from 1926 to 1952, the dramatic film “Babylon” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy who are connected in some way to the movie industry.

Culture Clash: A Mexican immigrant finds himself in various entanglements—including a volatile relationship with an ambitious actress—when he goes from being a service employee to a high-ranking executive at a movie studio. 

Culture Audience: “Babylon” will appeal primarily to fans of writer/director Damien Chazelle; stars Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie; and repetitive, overly long movies about people behaving badly that don’t have much else to say.

Lukas Haas (far left), Margot Robbie (second from right) and Brad Pitt (far right) in “Babylon” (Photo by Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures)

“Babylon” is cinematic vomit wrapped up in a pretty package. This movie stinks of being a phony, self-indulgent mess, but because of the pretty package, some people will insist that it’s great. And with a total running time of 189 minutes, “Babylon” wears out its welcome long before those three-plus hours are over. What’s even more irritating about “Babylon” is that it has a pretentious tone that it’s some kind of groundbreaking film. It’s not groundbreaking at all. It’s just a miscalculated, big-budget dud with awards aspirations but with a second-rate plot of a trashy B-movie.

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (the Oscar-winning director of 2016’s “La La Land”), “Babylon” is being marketed as an “exposé” of the dark side of Hollywood, particularly from the mid-1920s to the early 1930s, when most of the movie takes place. (The entire time range of “Babylon” spans from 1926 to 1952.) This long-winded train wreck is actually just a series of scenes showing hollow people acting vain and stupid, while indulging in promiscuous sex, illegal drugs and unrelenting shallowness. It is decadence that looks overly staged, not natural, and certainly not fascinating. And that’s one of the biggest problems with “Babylon.”

An example of how “Babylon” looks too contrived is shown early in the movie, in a scene that is supposed to depict a sex orgy at a mansion in Bel Air, California. Everything about the sex looks too choreographed and fake, which automatically makes this scene lose any sex appeal that it intended to have. The scene is supposed make “Babylon” viewers feel like voyeurs, but all it does is make viewers think that what the cast members are doing in these sex scenes are too precise and perfectly timed to look convincing.

“Babylon” also overuses cheap and tawdry gimmicks of showing bodily functions—defecating, urinating and vomiting—with the type of juvenile glee of someone who tells not-very-funny vulgar jokes, just to try to shock people, when it’s actually not very shocking at all. The bodily functions aren’t offensive on their own, but they’re cynically used in the movie as an obvious ploy to get people to think that Chazelle is being “bold” and “daring,” just because he’s never had these types of scenes in his previous films. When these kinds of crass, “gross-out” scenes are in “Jackass” movies, at least they’re usually funny, and they aren’t pretending to be prestigious art. “Babylon” takes itself way too seriously to even be a good dark comedy.

“Babylon” begins in 1926, by showing service employee Manuel “Manny” Torres (played by Diego Calva), a Mexican immigrant who wants to break into showbiz, with two of his co-workers (played by J.C. Currais and Jimmy Ortega) while making a delivery in Bel Air. They are driving a truck that’s towing an elephant in an open cart that’s tied by rope to the truck. The elephant is being transported to a Bel Air mansion, where rich movie-studio mogul Don Wallach (played by Jeff Garlin) is having a party later that night. The elephant is supposed to be at the party, simply as a way for the party host to show off that he has the money to bring an elephant to his home.

The rope on the truck breaks while the truck is on a steep incline. The workers try frantically to prevent the cart containing the elephant from sliding down the incline. And for their efforts, the elephant defecates all over them, with everything shown in graphic detail. What the elephant does to these workers is kind of like what “Babylon” does to viewers who have the fortitude to sit through this asinine dump of a movie.

The party is where viewers first see the other main characters in “Babylon.” Most of these characters have very few redeeming qualities, as if it’s Chazelle’s way of saying that Hollywood in the 1920s attracted mostly corrupt and morally bankrupt people. People with a strong sense of personal ethics don’t last long in this story. “Babylon” is not interested in showing the reality that Hollywood has always attracted a wide variety of people, not just people who are heinous. “Babylon” only wants to give the most screen time and a narrow view to the ones that care the most about clawing their way to the top and possibly destroying the competition.

Movie star Jack Conrad (played by Brad Pitt), a sex symbol in silent films, thinks he’s at the top of his game. But his career has been fading and will soon be damaged by the arrival of talking pictures (movies with sound, also known as talkies) in the late 1920s. Jack is dropped off at the party by his soon-to-be ex-wife Ina Conrad (played by Olivia Wilde, making quick cameo in the movie), who is furious with Jack because he’s been openly cheating on her. Jack and Ina have a hostile conversation in their car, where she berates him for his infidelity and for speaking with a fake Italian accent to people he wants to impress. Before she speeds away in anger, Ina yells that she wants a divorce.

Nellie LaRoy (played by Margot Robbie) is a crude, fame-hungry aspiring actress, who literally crashes the party by crashing her car into another car in full view of the security guards outside. (It’s a minor fender bender.) And then, she argues with the security guards, who prevent an uninvited Nellie into the party. Expect to see Nellie doing a lot more yelling throughout “Babylon,” because her nasty temper is the epitome of her limited personality.

Manny, who witnesses this spectacle when it happens, is immediately infatuated with Nellie because of her physical beauty. And so, Manny lies when he tells the security guards that Nellie is an important person who’s been invited to the party. It’s the beginning of a dysfunctional relationship between Manny and Nellie, where she uses him to get her out of messes and help her in her career, while Manny hopes that Nellie will fall in love with him.

Elinor St. John (played by Jean Smart) is a very jaded and influential gossip columnist, who uses her lofty media position to give and take away clout, in regards to how people want their public images to be perceived. Not long after Manny arrives at the party as a “jack of all trades” service worker, Elinor makes a sexual advance at him, but he politely declines. Elinor is at the party mainly as an observer. She considers herself to be much smarter and tougher than the average Hollywood power player.

Sidney Palmer (played by Jovan Adepo) is a trumpet player in a jazz band where Sidney is considered the star. Sidney and his band have been hired to perform at this mansion party. Later, they get a chance to star in feature films, during the early years of talking pictures, and when it was trendy to have jazz stars perform their music in these movies.

Lady Fay Zhu (played by Li Jun Li) is an androgynous, openly queer or lesbian entertainer, who is described in the “Babylon” production notes as “Marlene Dietrich by way of Anna May Wong.” Fay develops an infatuation with Nellie, but Fay finds out the hard way that Fay’s sexuality is not as accepted by Hollywood star makers as it is when she goes to private parties or performs in nightclubs.

Some of the other “Babylon” characters, who have varying degrees of importance to the overall story include movie producer George Munn (played by Lukas Haas), who is Jack’s best friend, enabler and producing partner; Estelle Conrad (played by Katherine Waterston), Jack’s haughty next wife, a Broadway actress who looks down on people in the movie industry; and James McKay (played by Tobey Maguire), a wealthy, perverted and sadistic businessman who loans money to Nellie and threatens her life when she doesn’t pay him back.

Some of the industry players depicted in “Babylon” include movie producer Irving Thalberg (played by Max Minghella), who is based on the real Thalberg, but is a very bland and generic character in “Babylon,” when he shouldn’t be; media mogul William Randolph Hearst (played by Pat Skipper); and movie director Ruth Adler (played by Olivia Hamilton), a rare woman who helms major studio films. Hamilton is one of the producers of “Babylon” and is also Chazelle’s real-life wife, so it’s perhaps no coincidence that she was cast as one of the few women who has any real power in the movie.

Operating on the fringes of the Hollywood elite are Bob Levine (played by Flea), a sleazy “fixer” hired by movies studios to conceal scandals; Robert Roy (played by Eric Roberts), Nellie’s unsophisticated and domineering father/manager, who is not respected by many of the power players; The Count (played by Rory Scovel), a wannabe actor who supplies drugs to people in the movie industry; Max (played by P.J. Byrne), Ruth Adler’s ill-tempered and antisemitic assistant director; Wilson (played by Ethan Suplee), one of James McKay’s sycophant employees; and Constance Moore (played by Samara Weaving), a silent-film star whom Nellie sees as a rival.

Expect to see a lot of cocaine-fueled debauchery and nonsense in “Babylon,” as Nellie predictably becomes not only a silent-film starlet but also a self-destructive drug addict. Manny, with Jack’s help, breaks into the movie industry and ends up becoming a high-ranking production executive at a movie studio, but Manny keeps letting Nellie’s problems become his problems too. Meanwhile, Jack struggles with maintaining his status as a movie star when talking pictures literally make him a laughingstock with movie audiences.

“Babylon” can’t even be very original when it comes to the “scandals” in the story. Early on in the movie, a young, aspiring actress named Jane Thornton (played by Phoebe Tonkin) meets an untimely death during the party at the Wallach mansion in Bel Air. Before she dies, Jane is shown having a drug-induced, kinky sexual encounter with an older, wealthy man named Orville Pickwick (played by Troy Metcalf), who is overweight and wants Jane to call him “daddy” while she urinates on him.

Jane and Orville are just lazily written caricatures of real-life actress Virginia Rappe and actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who went on trial for (and was later acquitted of) Rappe’s death, after she passed away in 1921, during a party they both attended in San Francisco. In “Babylon,” when Jane’s death is discovered in the Wallach mansion, there’s a frantic rush to cover it up. “Babylon” changes the outcome of this real-life scandal, but viewers who know about the stars of the silent-film era will immediately notice that Orville and Jane are based on Arbuckle and Rappe.

“Babylon” has eye-catching cinematography and production design to make everything look dazzling. The costume design, hairstyling and makeup are mostly adequate but also very questionable, since Nellie sometimes looks like she’s from the 1970s, not the 1920s. And the film editing in “Babylon” cannot be praised for a movie this bloated and unwieldy.

The “Babylon” cast members, particularly Robbie, give performances where they look like they want to be noticed and rewarded with industry prizes. Ironically, in a movie that overloads on empty excess, the best and most realistic scene in “Babylon” is a simple but well-acted conversation between Elinor and Jack in Elinor’s office, when Elinor explains to Jack why he’s becoming a has-been.

Elinor is one of many underdeveloped characters in “Babylon,” which puts most of the emphasis on the antics of Nellie and Jack. Manny gets sidelined for a great deal of the movie and only becomes a big part of the story again when Manny is needed to help Nellie. Manny’s meteoric rise in the movie industry, which could have been shown in riveting details, instead is merely a backdrop to whatever reactions that Manny has to the drug-addled hedonism that is going on around him and in which he sometimes participates.

“Babylon” tries to make “social statements” about Hollywood’s mistreatment of queer people and people of color during this time period. However, those statements reek of glib tokenism. Fay is never presented as a whole person but only as a fetish for people who want to see a woman kiss other women, or as an Asian woman whose purpose is to satisfy white people’s sexual fantasies about Asian women.

Similarly, “Babylon” also treats Sidney as a token, because his biggest scene is a humiliating racist experience that he has on a movie set: Sidney is ordered to put blackened makeup on his face so that his skin will look as dark as his bandmates. “Babylon” has no interest in presenting Sidney as a fully formed human being. The movie does not care to reveal anything about his personal life or backstory, whereas the personal lives and backstories of other characters are on full (and sometimes disgusting) display.

“Babylon” is also insulting in how it wants audiences to spend a little more than three hours watching a movie overstuffed with scenes where it’s just a lot of people shouting at each other, doing drugs, and being paranoid about their careers—and somewhere in between, a few movies get made. The snake wrestling scene with Nellie is particularly idiotic, as anyone with basic medical knowledge of poisonous snake bites can tell you. All of these superficial and time-wasting shenanigans don’t add up to much of a cohesive story, but are really just a lot of scenes strung together like a pointless, rambling essay.

Nellie will be the most talked-about character in “Babylon,” but she isn’t even that compelling, because she comes across as a dime-a-dozen Hollywood starlet, not a true star. (The Nellie character is partially based on the real-life Clara Bow.) “Babylon” never shows Nellie having any actual talent as an actress or having a charismatic personality, which would be two of the main reasons why people would root for this air-headed egomaniac. Nellie berates and degrades people who try to help her, she’s a pathetic drug addict, and she only turns on the charm when she wants something from someone.

The character of Jack is presented as having some empathy for other people, such as in scenes where he treats service employees very well, and when he helps Manny get his first big break in the movie industry. But the way Jack is written in “Babylon” is that he’s essentially a stereotypical Hollywood “bad boy” who parties too much and is chronically unfaithful to his wife/partner. There’s a very “been there, done that” attitude that Jack seems to have, but the same could be said about how this entire character is portrayed in “Babylon.”

Pitt in “Babylon” is really just doing a 1920s version of what was already seen in writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which was set in 1969. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which also co-starred Pitt and Robbie, was about fictional has-been actor Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double/best friend Cliff Booth (played by Pitt, in an Oscar-winning role), as they encounter members of Charles Manson’s cult, with Robbie in the role of real-life bombshell starlet Sharon Tate. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Babylon” both have themes about what the quest for fame will do to people in Hollywood and how changing trends in Hollywood can affect people’s careers. It’s easy for anyone to see which is the better movie.

Chazelle has a devoted fan base of people who think he can do no wrong. Many of those people are likely to heap rapturous praise on the soulless “Babylon,” just because Chazelle wrote and directed it and got some big-name stars to be in the movie. People who aren’t as susceptible to getting blinded by celebrity names can see “Babylon” for what it is: A vanity project created by filmmakers with enough money to throw around at a movie that’s just a series of scenes of people being obnoxious, with not much else to say. A very pretentious montage near the end of “Babylon” tries to look like an artsy tribute to filmmaking, but it just looks out-of-place in a film that’s already immersed in a lot of tackiness and storytelling muck.

There are plenty of artfully made and entertaining films about people doing very bad things. Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese has made a career out of doing these kinds of movies. Simply put: “Babylon” is Chazelle’s ambitious but failed attempt to make a movie like Scorsese makes movies.

The reason why so many Scorsese films are classics, while “Babylon” will be known as a very expensive misfire, comes down to the believability of the characters and the story. People watching “Babylon” will feel like they’re watching privileged actors and actresses playing dress-up instead of truly embodying their characters. If the purpose of “Babylon” is to show how Hollywood can squander talent with overpriced and aimless movies, then that is perhaps the only area where “Babylon” truly succeeds.

Paramount Pictures will release “Babylon” in U.S. cinemas on December 23, 2022. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on January 31, 2023. “Babylon” will be released on Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD on March 21, 2023.

Review: ‘Midnight in the Switchgrass,’ starring Megan Fox, Bruce Willis and Emile Hirsch

August 31, 2021

by Carla Hay

Megan Fox and Bruce Willis in “Midnight in the Switchgrass” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Midnight in the Switchgrass”

Directed by Randall Emmett

Culture Representation: Taking place in Florida, the dramatic film “Midnight in the Switchgrass” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Law enforcement officials try to capture an elusive serial killer who targets prostitutes for murder.

Culture Audience: “Midnight in the Switchgrass” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching boring, formulaic and predictable crime dramas.

Lukas Haas and Megan Fox in “Midnight in the Switchgrass” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

It’s quite a stretch to call “Midnight in the Switchgrass” an “original movie,” since this formulaic dud recycles every movie/TV cliché about cops looking for a serial killer who targets prostitutes. If you’ve seen any movie with the same concept, then you know exactly what to expect in “Midnight in the Switchgrass.” A derivative film might be mildly acceptable if there was some excitement in the story or if the characters had charisma.

But the filmmakers of “Midnight in the Switchgrass” made no attempt at having anything in the movie that that could be described as “suspenseful” or “surprising.” And the cast members look like they’re just going through the motions. There are zombies that have better personalities than almost all of the characters in this dull and dreary crime drama.

Directed by Randall Emmett and written by Alan Horsnail, “Midnight in the Switchgrass” doesn’t even have a clever title. The movie’s title refers to a switchgrass field in Florida where the killer keeps some of his victims captive in a hidden storm tunnel. Switchgrass is also mentioned as a place where one of the serial killer’s murder victims used to hide as a child to escape from an abusive father. The movie takes place mostly in Florida’s Pensacola area, where two cops from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are on the hunt for the serial killer. (This movie was actually filmed in Los Angeles and Puerto Rico.)

“Midnight in the Switchgrass” has probably gotten more publicity for being the movie set where co-stars Megan Fox and Colson Baker (also known as musician Machine Gun Kelly) fell in love. Fox separated from her actor husband Brian Austin Green after finishing the movie. She and Baker went public with their romance after that. It’s probably the only thing that people will remember about this dreadful movie.

Fox and Baker have just one very short scene together in “Midnight in the Switchgrass,” near the beginning of the film. She portrays an undercover cop named Rebecca Lombardi, who usually goes undercover as a prostitute. (How stereotypical.) Baker plays a sleazy pimp named Calvin “Calxco” Colton, who’s got Rebecca in a motel room, and he wants her to do some prostitution work for him, but she’s stalling.

The sting almost goes awry when Calxco starts to get rough with Rebecca, and it seems as if he won’t let her leave the motel room. She fights back in ways that show she’s not a typical hooker but someone who’s got combat skills. Luckily, Rebecca was able to alert her police colleagues through audio surveillance, and the cops arrive in time to arrest Calxco.

One of the colleagues who worked with her on this sting is Byron Crawford (played by Emile Hirsch), an earnest cop with a very fake-sounding Southern accent, thanks to Hirsch’s terrible acting in the movie. Byron ends up taking the lead on the investigation of the prostitute murders that are plaguing the area. Byron and Rebecca want Claxco to give information about who’s been murdering prostitutes and dumping their bodies along the highway. Claxco gives a clue about what the suspected killer’s truck looks like, and then Claxco isn’t seen in the movie again.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because the investigation of this prostitute-murdering serial killer uses the same formula as other similar movies and TV shows. The obligatory grizzled and jaded cop veteran is FBI agent Karl Helter (played by Bruce Willis), who’s only in about 25% of the movie. Translation: “Midnight in the Switchgrass” didn’t have the budget to hire Willis in a role where he would get most of the screen time. Willis looks like he’s just there for the easy salary, and he looks completely “checked out” emotionally in this movie.

The only important thing that Karl tells the Florida cops is that the federal government doesn’t want to get involved in finding this serial killer. And so, Byron and Rebecca do most of the legwork to solve the case. And you know what that means: Rebecca is going undercover as a hooker again, so that she can be bait for the serial killer. You can almost do a countdown to when she gets held captive by the serial killer. (And it would be easy to predict, even if it wasn’t shown in the movie’s trailer.)

Through surveillance footage, the cops find out that the serial killer is most likely a truck driver, because many of the murder victims were last seen at or near a truck stop. There’s even surveillance video of one the of murder victims being forced to leave with him. And sure enough, the killer really is a truck driver. The movie’s trailer shows his face, so it’s not spoiler information to reveal that the killer is a married father named Peter (played by Lukas Haas), who’s been leading a double life.

Predictably, Peter has a “Jekyll & Hyde” personality: He’s mild-mannered and quiet to most people, but he’s a rage-filled monster when he’s alone with his victims. He doesn’t kill all of his victims right away, but he keeps them tied up in the storm tunnel to torture and sexually assault them. Peter also has a barn with a locked door to hide a lot of evidence related to his murders. Because the movie reveals early on who the serial killer is, there’s no mystery or suspense. The screenplay for “Midnight in the Switchgrass” is so lazy and generic, there’s not even an explanation for why Peter turned out the way that he did.

It must be frustrating for aspiring filmmakers who have truly original ideas for movies but can’t get the financing for these movies to be made, while unimaginative junk like “Midnight in the Switchgrass” is churned out, just because some actors with well-known names signed on to the project. You can almost hear the thought process of the “Midnight in the Switchgrass” producers: “Sure, there’s already a lot of movies and TV shows about cops looking for a serial killer, but this movie doesn’t have to be good, as long as we might make a profit from it.”

“Midnight in the Switchgrass” is the type of sexist movie where almost all of the adult female characters have shallow, underdeveloped roles as prostitute crime victims or dutiful wives/mothers at home. Peter has a wife named Karen (played by Lydia Hull) and a daughter named Bethany (played by Olive Elise Abercrombie), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Peter’s wife and daughter have no idea that he has this secret life as a serial killer. Byron has a baby daughter named Bella with his wife Suzanna (played by Jackie Cruz), who does nothing in this movie but fret over her husband

And the movie doesn’t really care to give the prostitute victims any real personalities. They have names like Heather (played by Sistine Rose Stallone), Chastity (played by Katalina Viteri), Tracey (played by Caitlin Carmichael) and Sarah, who has no dialogue in the movie because she’s already dead. Peter’s victims are typically all young and pretty.

In one unrealistic scene, one of the prostitutes invites Peter into her motel room before they even discuss the price of her services. You don’t have to be a sex worker to know that’s just not the way they do business. A sex worker wouldn’t invite a potential customer to a room until the sex worker knows first how much the customer is going to pay.

As for undercover cop Rebecca, she’s one of the few women in the movie who isn’t a prostitute or a dutiful wife/mother. However, she still spends about half of her screen time pretending to be a hooker. It’s just an excuse to have Fox in a movie where she has to dress like a prostitute and spend a considerable amount of screen time being tied up in the scenes where she’s been kidnapped.

There’s a half-hearted attempt to make Rebecca a little feisty, but the dialogue is so bland for all of the characters, viewers who have the misfortune of sitting through this dreck will have a hard time remembering any specific lines of conversations after the movie is over. If you make it to the end without falling asleep, you’ll find that “Midnight in the Switchgrass” fails to live up to its description as a “thriller,” since there is almost nothing in this horrific misfire that is thrilling.

Lionsgate released “Midnight in the Switchgrass” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 23, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27, 2021.

Review: ‘Browse,’ starring Lukas Haas

July 7, 2020

by Carla Hay

Lukas Haas in “Browse” (Photo courtesy of FilmRise)

“Browse” 

Directed by Mike Testin

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the drama “Browse” has a predominantly white cast (with a few Asians and black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Bad things start happening to a lonely unmarried man, and it might or might not be connected to his recent online dating activities.

Culture Audience: “Browse” will mostly appeal to people who like mystery dramas set in seedy atmospheres, but the only people who will like this movie are those who don’t mind badly written scenes that ultimately serve no purpose in the film.

Lukas Haas in “Browse” (Photo courtesy of FilmRise)

The incoherent drama “Browse” tries to look like a suspenseful horror movie, but there’s nothing scary or thrilling about this rambling dud of a film. If you expect movies about a mystery to have the mystery solved by the end of the film, then don’t waste your time watching “Browse,” which has a conclusion that is as unsatisfying as it is pointless. “Browse” director Mike Testin tries to infuse some artsy elements into the movie, but the “Browse” screenplay by Mario Carvalhal is really a substandard unfinished draft instead of a cohesive, complete story.

In “Browse,” which takes place in Los Angeles, Richard Coleman (played by Lukas Haas) is a lonely divorced man who lives by himself in the type of shabby high-rise apartment building that used to be a hotel in its glory days. Richard is an office manager at a start-up company (the type of business is not mentioned in the movie), where his abrasive and cocky boss Daniel (played by Ken Kirby) is about 15 years younger than Richard.

Richard’s rented apartment is as dull, dreary and nearly empty as his life. He can’t even commit to buying furniture, since all of the furniture in the apartment is rented, and he’s kept the plastic coverings on the furniture. The only “companions” that Richard has at home are an Alexa-type of device named Roxy and any of the random women he might chat with online when he goes on dating sites or webcam model sites. Richard also spends a lot of time in virtual-reality worlds.

Richard is sometimes visited by an apartment front-desk employee named Kyle (played by Bodhi Elfman), a nosy motormouth who teases Richard about Richard’s attempts to find love online. One evening, while Kyle is visiting Richard, he tells Richard that the apartment managers have bought up other apartments on the street and want to kick out longtime residents, in order to rent to the wealthy people who are willing to pay higher prices. Kyle also reminds Richard that his rent is due, but Richard says that he’s on an automatic payment plan and the rent isn’t due until the next day.

Kyle also has a morbid fascination with talking about how people died in the building. He tells Richard about a longtime building resident who killed himself by putting a plastic bag over his head. The man’s decomposed body was found several days later, and it made the local news.

And later in the story, Kyle also wants to show Richard surveillance video of an apartment resident who committed suicide on the surveillance video by shooting himself of the roof of the building. However, Richard refuses to watch the video because he thinks it’s too creepy.

Even if “Browse” didn’t have a scene of Kyle pressuring Richard to watch a disturbing suicide video, the movie telegraphs too much that Kylie is a shady person who can’t be trusted. In one scene, Kyle tells Richard that an unidentified man stopped by the apartment building to ask if Richard lived there, but Kyle can’t describe the man and where he went.

Meanwhile, there are signs that Richard is the victim of identity theft, and whoever stole his identity has access to his bank accounts and credit cards. In another scene, Kyle tells Richard that his rent is one month overdue. Kyle later says he was mistaken and that Richard’s rent is actually three months overdue and the landlord wants to evict Richard. However, Richard objects to this claim, because he says he knows the rent was paid, and if it hadn’t been paid, the landlord would have notified him.

The furniture company where Richard got his furniture calls Richard to tell him that they’re repossessing the furniture because he stopped paying. An angry Richard tells them that he hasn’t missed any payments and that he should probably own the furniture by now. Nevertheless, the furniture gets repossessed. And then, Richard finds out that his bank accounts are overdrawn by thousands of dollars, and his bank card has been declared a “fraud” by the bank.

In the middle of all this financial drama, Richard has become enamored with a woman named Veronica (played by Chloe Bridges), who looks like a model and who is an aspiring singer who goes by the stage name Veronique. Richard first “met” Veronica online through a dating site, and they began texting and talking with each other. Richard is thrilled to find out that Veronica lives in the building across from his, and he can see right into her apartment.

But when Veronica suggests they meet up late one night at his apartment building’s swimming pool so they can smoke cigarettes together, she ends up being a no-show. The only person smoking a cigarette near the pool is an unnamed young man, played by Luke Spencer Roberts.

When Richard asks the young man who he is, the young man cryptically replies with famous words uttered by Jim Morrison of The Doors: “I’m the lizard king. I can do anything.” This “lizard king” reference has no bearing on this movie’s story, but it’s an example of the randomly derivative things in “Browse” that seems like it’s a possible clue to what’s going on, but it actually leads nowhere.

Even though Veronica stood up Richard for their “date” at the swimming pool, he becomes obsessed with her. Richard becomes a Peeping Tom and even takes voyeuristic photos of Veronica when she’s in her apartment with the windows exposed. It isn’t long before she finds out that Richard is a creep who’s been spying on her.

“Browse” also shows Richard doing some Internet stalking of his ex-wife Roxy Castillo (played by Jocelin Donahue), who is now remarried and expecting a child with her current husband. Is it a coincidence that Richard’s talking computer device and his ex-wife both have the same name? Richard finds out about the pregnancy because his ex-wife Roxy posted the baby news and an ultrasound photo on her social media.

Out of the blue, Richard’s ex-wife Roxy calls him to ask him to stop his phone harassment. She claims that someone with his phone number has been harassing her, but Richard vehemently denies it.

Roxy then makes a vague reference to a past problem that Richard had, and she says that her current husband Jim is a professional who can get Richard some help. Richard angrily yells at Roxy that he’s not a charity case, and then she hangs up on him. Is this a clue that maybe Richard is delusional and that he’s the cause of his own problems?

But Richard’s life is about to get worse. There’s a webcam model whom Richard has gotten to know in real life named Rachel (played by Allison Dunbar), whose online alias is Candy. Richard and Rachel/Candy met up for a sexual hookup, but unbeknownst to Richard, she video recorded them having sex. He only finds out when he sees that she’s put the sex video on her website without his permission—and his face is in full view, so there’s no hiding his identity.

The sex video causes problems for Richard at work, where he’s on shaky ground with his boss Daniel, who has hired a new employee who might be Richards’ replacement. Daniel has ordered Richard to fire three of Richard’s subordinates as part of the company’s downsizing plans. One of those subordinates is named Claire (played by Sarah Rafferty), who is obviously attracted to Richard, but the feeling isn’t mutual.

However, Richard likes and respects Claire. Therefore, he balks at Daniel’s demand that Claire has to be one of the three employees that Richard is supposed to fire. Meanwhile, Richard is suspicious of an information technology (IT) employee named Brendt (played by Abhi Sinha), whom he caught one day fiddling around with Richard’s work computer. Richard starts to wonder if Brendt has anything to do with Richard’s apparent identity theft.

All of this sounds like a good mystery, but the way it’s presented in “Browse” ends up being a jumbled mess. The neo-jazz musical score by Makaya McCraven suggests that “Browse” is an intriguing noir movie, but this is really an aimless story that doesn’t really know what to do and how to resolve the issues presented in the story.

There is nothing remarkable about any of the acting in the film. And even if the performances were great, the characters are written as shadowy people with no real backstories. The only thing about Richard’s past that’s really revealed is that he used to be married and he might have some psychiatric problems.

At one point in the movie, when Richard’s life is completely falling apart, he utters in despair: “I think I’m paralyzed from the neck up, if that makes any sense … I don’t know how to get back on track.” That pretty much describes the brain-dead turn this movie takes, as it leads viewers into an oblivion of disappointment and confusion.

FilmRise released “Browse” on digital and VOD on July 7, 2020.

Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix
CULTURE MIX