More tortoise than hare

Race You To The Bottom

on March 30, 2007 by Jay Antani
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Refreshingly stripped down as it is, writer/director Russell Brown's road-trip dramedy Race You to the Bottom is also rife with tired observations and cliched sexual politics. While clocking in at a relatively painless 75 minutes, Brown fails to come up with anything so fresh and bold in his approach as to make a single one of those worth watching.

Maggie (Amber Benson) is cheating on her milquetoast boyfriend Milo (Justin Zachary) with bisexual philanderer and travel writer Nathan (Cole Williams). You can't blame her: Milo's caught up in woebegone political causes, and in bed he's a bore. Nathan, on the other hand, is a sly charmer with a sense of sexual and peripatetic adventure. Maggie tags along with Nathan on a Napa Valley travel-writing assignment. En route, they take a detour to visit Maggie's old friends, Joe (Justin Hartley) and Carla (Danielle Harris), a predictably drab married couple, all picket-fence domesticity and sexual frustration. When interloper Nathan seduces Joe and turns his crank (or, rather, strokes it), the moment so lacks in erotic mischief that Nathan may as well have been giving Joe tips on lawn maintenance.

Brown blunders onward through Nathan and Maggie's wine country journey. They exchange platitudes about Maggie's need for lasting romance and Nathan's sneering of the same, due to the shame he harbors over his attraction to men. Before long, their dynamic descends into snide insults, as Maggie distances herself from the noncommittal Nathan, who tries blatantly to rankle his companion by flirting with local studs. Brown feeds us occasional offhand flashbacks of Nathan and Maggie's separate sexual turning points, but these are clumsily handled, often sapping the scenes in which they appear of their coherence and rhythm. Worse, they amount to precious little within the movie's scheme of vapid character development.

As gamely as Benson and Williams engage their roles, the diffidence that characterizes the material as a whole hobbles their performances, rendering them erratic and unfocused. To be truly happy, we must be honest with each other and with ourselves—that seems to be the message at the heart of this story. But Brown dresses it up in shoddily patched-together, amateurish scenes that point to a filmmaker with either poor instincts or a lack of faith in them. Distributor: Regent
Cast: Amber Benson, Cole Williams, Jeremy Lelliott, Danielle Thomas and Justin Hartley
Director/Screenwriter: Russell Brown
Producers: Roni Deitz and Russell Brown
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for sexual content, language and brief drug use
Running time:
Release date: March 30, 2007 LA, April NY

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