Writer, producer and star Scott Caan contemplates the vagaries of love in a dull romance that won’t lift him above his station as a likeable Hollywood legacy—who evidently feels his generation needs its own John Cassavetes or lower-budget nouveau-Rat Pack. (No word on whether Nick Cassavetes or George Clooney were consulted.) Fashion photographer turned director Patrick Hoelck can’t seem to make this talky piece distinct, so the end product is pretty conventional. The performances are decent, however, and the “Real Actors of Tinseltown” aura surrounding Mercy will generate a buzz that’s more likely to benefit its video-on-demand premiere than its NY theatrical bow two days later.
Caan limns 30 year old Johnny Ryan, a romance novelist born and raised in LA. He’s macho, hip and, brace yourselves, literate. The other supposed irony is that while he writes about true love, Johnny is a total hound dog and commitment-phobe. Having given up alcohol, no-strings-attached encounters with comely cocktail waitresses are his drug of choice. With smart and studly checked off the list, the object of the exercise is to add sensitive and mature to his emotional repertoire.
Enter the title character, a book critic portrayed by willowy Brit Wendy Glenn, whom Johnny meets at a Hollywood soiree celebrating his latest book. Although she pans his work, she can’t resist Johnny’s Hemingwayesque charm. Troy Garity takes the role of Johnny’s married best friend and Dylan McDermott is his swinging agent. James Caan looks mighty uncomfortable as our literary hero’s semi-estranged dad, a bitter college professor who, having been burned by Johnny’s mother, scorns the notion of love.
Caan’s decision to cast real-life pals such as Jane Fonda’s son Garity, McDermott and John Boyd (as a blabbering lovesick friend)—not to mention his father—makes sense, but the decision to leave out the heart of his narrative doesn’t. Bracketing the love story with before and after segments, introduced by chapter headings pounded out on a manual typewriter, results in a flaccid structure. Because not enough of the romance is shown, we’re not especially interested in figuring out why Mercy is suddenly absent from Johnny’s life. This structural decision fuels the suspicion that Caan is more interested in exploring the idea of romance than the reality. His character’s torment notwithstanding, lots of emotion is left on the table. Fate’s intervention in the affair proves to be maudlin in a shallow if stylish, Tom Ford kind of way.
Clearly, a major aim was to show a deeper, more normal side of LA and its showbiz denizens. Caan wants us to know that second-generation Hollywood actors have feelings and brains too. But while Mercy has a certain authenticity—thanks to passable dialogue, Hoelck’s interest in architectural details and a somber, un-sunny palette—it doesn’t move beyond platitudes. (On the downside, Hoelck’s still photography background may explain the continuity lapses throughout.) Mercy can be described as a moody picture that traffics in variations of only one mood or sentiment: self-pity.
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Scott Caan, Wendy Glenn, Troy Garity, John Boyd, James Caan, Dylan McDermott, Alexi Gilmore, Whitney Able and Erika Christensen
Director: Patrick Hoelck
Screenwriter: Scott Caan
Producers: Scott Caan, Vince Palomino and Phil Parmet
Running time: 87 min.
Release date: April 30 NY, May 7 LA