Micro-budgeted wallow in teen violence aims at Larry Clark and Gaspar Noe but hits rock bottom instead


on January 19, 2007 by Ray Greene
Writer/director Adam Bhala Lough's rancid little teenage melodrama Weapons wants to shock, but its most horrifying moment has no violence or body fluid to it. That's when, early on, a major character walks into his first scene with a small video camcorder pinned to his eye and already running. “What are you doing?” someone says. “I'm making a movie,” comes the reply. Anyone who has ever been to a film festival knows this film-within-a-film will be the excuse for huge swathes of what follows to be presented in an artless video verite style, featuring unschooled improvisational performances by actors of variable experience.

And now the screaming starts.

Embracing verite is undoubtedly a budgetary as much as an aesthetic decision, but it does show Lough may be aware of his film's central problem, which is that nothing whatever in the world he creates feels lived. Weapons is Larry Clark's hysterical Lord of the Flies view of modern teenage savagery blended very unsuccessfully with the conceit of Gaspar Noe's harrowing but brilliant revenge parable Irreversible. (The latter film is even quoted from visually in one particularly languid beating scene.) In this saga of two high school murders, Lough depicts an unconvincing subculture of white trash teens and black gangsta hoodies, where, he wants us to believe, violence is so close to the surface that the smallest misunderstanding can send it rippling out in ever-expanding concentric circles, like the impact a large stone might make dropped in a puddle of fecal mud.

Nobody comes off well here, not even an old pro like Arliss Howard, who seems so confused about what he's supposed to be doing and overacts so wildly in his drug-dealer cameo that when he gets his head knocked in by a fire extinguisher, you almost wish it was his agent getting clouted. Like many a schlockmeister before him, director Lough hides behind the dodge that he's telling us the shocking truth, but, despite imagery that includes heads being blown off and a drunken boy being urinated on while passed out in a bathtub, not much of what Weapons say is shocking, and none of it seems true.

It's presented as an expose of a world the audience doesn't want to believe exists or some such, but it's actually just a bunch of fetishistic crap borrowed from other people's films and certain kinds of rap records. These kids don't just violate middle-class morality, they violate plausibility, as when Lough maneuvers one actress through a cell-phone conversation about boys that gets interrupted but not terminated by the firing of a gun at the party surrounding her. This is meant to prove she's so used to violence that gunfire doesn't faze her. What it actually proves is that Lough either hasn't lived in or didn't pay attention when he was in any neighborhood where gunfire is a part of daily life. The people in those places take bullets very, very seriously.

The shooter in that party scene is a character called “Redneck” who is frequently mentioned but never really seen, except as a momentary background blur of thrown punches and trigger pulls. That makes him the true protagonist of Weapons, in that he's the most emblematic of Lough's reductive “achievement,” which is to reduce everything human about his story to a blurry caricature of animus. A micro-budget sometimes helps a picture like this to achieve a raw kind of visual integrity, but, despite the fact that cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro does about as well as can be expected under the handheld digital circumstances, Weapons probably would have benefited from studio production values. In a more expensive puppet show, at least the strings wouldn't be so visible.

What this childish wallow was doing in the Dramatic Competition at Sundance only Robert Redford's minions know. Distributor: TBD
Cast: Nick Cannon, Paul Dano, Mark Webber, Riley Smith, Regine Nehy, Jade Yorker, Amy Ferguson and Arliss Howard
Director/Screenwriter: Adam Bhala Lough
Producers: Rob Fried, Dan Keston and Bill Straus
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not yet rated
Running time: 85 min.
Release date: TBD

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