Grind

on August 15, 2003 by Dale Winogura
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A worthless effort displaying egotism rather than talent, "Grind" is indeed a grind--torpid, bland, lifeless and hollow. Its worst aspect is the pretentious sensibility of writer/director Chris Kentis, who makes labored attempts to integrate existential elements with a simple film noir character study.
   In his first film, made before "Sleepers" and "Everyone Says I Love You," Billy Crudup tries mightily to overcome the colorless role the script provides him, and he nearly succeeds. He plays an ex-con who moves in with his older brother (a one-note Paul Schulze) after being released from prison. Predictably, the parolee falls for his brother's wife (a pretty but vapid Adrienne Shelley) as he toils in a monotonous factory job when he's not drag racing. He gets into even more trouble when he partners with his brother and a crooked boss in a car insurance scam that goes awry.
   Already cursory narrative exposition is further damaged by a lack of character development and motivation, despite Crudup's occasionally interesting volatility. It's bad enough that the characters are so dumb and repellent (except for the usual sturdily authoritative turn provided by Frank Vincent as the brothers' workaholic father), but there's not much credible about them, either.
   Kentis' helming is long on amateurish staging and slack pacing-- and long on pauses that are supposed to be pregnant with meaning. His idea of alienation and ennui is to have the actors stare into space or to have scenes suddenly fade out. Such counterfeit artistic daring deserves condemnation rather than praise. The absence of sexual chemistry between Crudup and Shelley is one of the film's most injurious faults (proving what a triumph of seething tension and passion Robert M. Young's recent "Caught" was). Their listless behavior contributes to a dragged-out story that might have been improved had it been filmed with the short running time and full-speed-ahead style of a 1950s Roger Corman potboiler like "Teenage Doll" or "Sorority Girl." Starring Billy Crudup, Adrienne Shelley and Paul Schulze. Directed by Chris Kentis. Written by Laura Lau and Chris Kentis. Produced by Laura Lau. A Castle Hill release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 96 min.
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