Julian Po

on September 05, 1997 by Ian Hodder
   Nothing stirs up a cinematic small town like the arrival of a stranger. His very presence upsets the delicate balance of personalities and priorities that the local yokels have forged during years of isolation. In "Julian Po," a film set in one such crossroads of civilization, those citizens include a gruff mayor, a gun-mad sheriff and his good-cookin' wife, a kooky minister, an unstable landlord and his deaf/mute (or is she?) housekeeper, and the standard-issue wistful young maiden. They've all spent eons together without incident.
   So when 30-year-old Julian Po (Christian Slater) rents a room in this village without visitors, he attracts loads of suspicion-laden attention--until Julian informs his new neighbors why he's there: to kill himself. In a flash, xenophobia turns to admiration for this man of conviction, someone who plans to put his gun where his mouth is. Julian, who moved into Nowheresville to be left alone, receives a personal call from everyone in town; they confess their darkest secrets, give him haircuts and corn muffins, request guidance, or simply bask in his notoriety. The idea behind this movie is that through Julian these poor sods can find their true selves.
   But, as trite as it sounds, we never get to know Julian's visitors beyond their broadly drawn dramatic roles. Perhaps if the film concentrated on just a few characters, rather than an entire townfull, there'd be sufficient room to explore the chosen with appropriate depth. As it stands, the audience watches a parade of personalities while wondering, "Who are these people, and who cares?" The same goes for Julian, a man we learn almost nothing about. It's hard to sympathize with a future suicide victim who won't divulge why he plans to do himself in.
   In the title role, Slater is so-so. He's got the quizzical expression down pat but sometimes appears like he doesn't believe what he's saying. Going to see "Julian Po" is akin to doing your laundry in an unknown neighborhood. It's interesting to watch the locals go about their business, but you forget all about them on the drive home. Starring Christian Slater. Directed and written by Alan Wade. Produced by Jon Glascoe and Joseph Pierson. A Fine Line release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements related to suicide, and for language and some sensuality. Running time: 83 min
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