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With all the '80s musical and dance film remakes either in the works or in pre-release from Fame to Footloose to, yes, Girls Just Want to Have Fun-- Powder Blue is proof that instead of an audition, if they ever decided to remake Flashdance, Jessica Biel could just send the filmmakers a screener of this film from writer/director Timothy Linh Bui.
Of course, aside from Biel's scenes as an exotic dancer which have long been the talk of the sleazier side of the internet (including humiliating leaked photos of Biel topless etc.), those imaginary producers of the possible Flashdance remake would have to endure the rest of the film which simply put is one of the absolute worst movies I've seen in a long, long time. I could just say "end of review" but if you're interested why, go ahead and read on.
For honestly, the thing is-- sadly Biel (whom I first saw in The Illusionist and felt she showed great promise) would've done much better by deciding to show her frankly extremely impressive and athletic skills as a dancer in Flashdance since (unlike that film's talented star Jennifer Beals) she completes all of her own highly stylized routines in this one.
However, in Blue she stars as a single coke-snorting stripper so desperate for companionship she comes on way too strong with every man she meets--nervously talking about Annie Hall for example which any film geek will tell you isn't a good idea. Why the coke and latching onto fantasies of men who will take her to Paris, you ask? Well, the filmmaker is only so pleased to constantly remind you that it's as a way to avoid thinking about her coma-ridden son and missing dog (yes, as if one of those plot-lines wasn't depressing enough).
Obviously, Biel is completely wasted here and to add further insult to insult, she's now been made the subject of online sleaze for believing in a filmmaker so much that she pours hot wax all over her bare chest in a pretentious film that on paper was most likely trying to become the next in a long line of Short Cuts, Crash, 21 Grams, Magnolia, Garden Party, Crossing Over, The Air I Breathe, and dozens of other hopelessly lonely movies about the bleakness of life in La La Land. And as everyone knows we can never have too many of those!
While the film's central premise as promised in the synopsis and on the back of the box is that we're going to encounter "the destinies of four people desperate for connection and redemption," in a way that "movingly chronicles the imperfect lives of people teetering on the edge of despair and the miracles that bring them back," basically throughout its unspeakably mind-numbing 106 minute running time that makes Chariots of Fire and Reds feel like "short films," Bui introduces us to an endless parade of losers. He does this in an attempt to as the filmmaker describes in the making-of-featurette (which I watched both as a critic and as a viewer just simply in shock that this picture had been made in the first place) to create "a study of loneliness in a city of 8 million people."
Inexplicably an obsession of the filmmaker for four years as he struggled to get it made-- even going as far as to live in a seedy motel he'd read about in the paper where failed dreamers and transients who'd ventured to Los Angeles all with the hopes of "becoming somebody" go to rot-- Powder Blue tries its best to dress up the devastation of the piece with religious symbolism and dialogue throughout from the opening frames of the film.
Setting it right around Christmas, Bui makes his "miracle" a bizarre one wherein at least three characters wind up dead. Oh yes, there's a happy present for you and frankly I would've preferred Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia style rain of frogs which freaked the hell out of me but did so with style!
And early into the movie we also meet a suicidal Forest Whitaker willing to pay any given stranger 50 grand to shoot him in the heart (most likely for agreeing to produce and star in this film), Ray Liotta as a terminally ill ex-con and a quirky asthmatically shy mortician so unrealistic he's named for the keyboard-- Qwerty (Eddie Redmayne). Oh and I think it goes without saying that Qwerty whose last name is actually Dolittle who has never had a real girlfriend and entertains kids with puppets.
As if that wasn't enough drama, the film also somehow manages to work in creepier subplots and wasted cameos by incredibly talented actors including Lisa Kudrow as a good-natured waitress who-- lonely but still functioning after a divorce-- provides an early romantic possibility for the suicidally depressed and grieving widow Whitaker (whose wife we see in flashbacks was played by the impressive Sanaa Lathan).
Likewise we encounter Kris Kristofferson as another underworld type who always arranges to meet Liotta on a city bus (not exactly something out of the typical wiseguy playbook), a hooker transvestite trying to raise money to undergo surgery to become a woman, and Patrick Swayze as Biel's lecherous strip club boss who-- similar to the girl playing his employee-- would've been much better off in an '80s musical or dance movie remake.
I will grant that it is intriguing indeed on Bui's part to cast Liotta as a soft-spoken against-type character who lets his eyes do most of the talking in a storyline that also involves Biel yet he ruins it as it's also one of the most predictable "gee, how are they related?" connect-the-dots of the wretchedly gritty script and to top it all, the payoff feels like a cheat.
Despite this, the sole bright spot of the film is found in Kudrow who manages to work wonders with her tiny role making us wish she not only was offered more work but that Powder Blue (by the way, I still don't get the title) would've centered around her.
Moreover, by this point I'm seriously questioning Forest Whitaker's motives (along with Liotta's actually) in never finding a role they decide to turn down as they both recently starred in equally bleak ensemble pictures like Whitaker's The Air I Breathe and Liotta's Crossing Over which you know wouldn't have garnered them a big salary at all.
Yet in the case of Powder Blue, mostly you just feel the sorriest for Biel. Not her character mind you as Biel's Rose-Johnny (again with the stupid names) could've disappeared along with the rest and we would've been fine but instead during the film, I felt incredibly badly for the actress herself.
As despite all of the online chatter about her body and beauty including quips about her acting chops by agreeing to appear in some downright silly movies like I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (although to her credit, I wouldn't have turned down a Sandler picture either)-- not to mention the endless gossip fodder surrounding her relationship with Justin Timberlake-- she's a strong onscreen presence. And much like she did given her great yet underwritten role in The Illusionist, she plunges completely into Blue with a fierce dedication and loyalty that makes you painfully aware that she should be offered the chance to prove herself in something far more worthwhile than this film.
Downright ugly and extremely unpleasant (so much so that I'd rather watch a double feature of two other contemporary horrors--Margot at the Wedding and The Savages before I'd ever watch this again), Powder Blue is the type of movie that should come with a prescription for an antidepressant or perhaps a tranquilizer so that you could sleep through its entirety.
Additionally, the work that even seems visually grainy in high-definition despite a strong sound balance goes against its tagline that "hope is found in the darkest places" by proving that it can only be found when you hit eject. Since ultimately, the only thing it makes you want to do is avoid Los Angeles like the plague, any future films by the director, and ask yourself just when filmmakers decided that the only subject to make an independent film about is devastating loneliness, suicide, terminal illness, and/or lost causes. For Bui-- perhaps realizing he'll never have the chance to make another movie-- opted to just go for the 2009 Sophie's Choice Depress-a-thon Award of the Year and put them all in the same film.