`The Low Down' never rises to its potential

April 20, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The hero of "The Low Down" is Frank, a guy who has no idea what he wants to do with his life, either personally or professionally, and only some vague inkling that he needs to know better.

That could be the basis of an interesting film, as Frank stumbles through his days in search of ... something. But for filmmaker Jamie Thraves, the fact of this guy's emotional inertia is what makes him interesting, not his efforts to get beyond it.

The result is a film as uninvolving as Frank's life, far too content to simply follow Frank around, without offering much in the way of insight. We start out not caring much for Frank and his equally uninvolving friends, and we end up pretty much the same way.

Firmly ensconced in his late 20s, Frank (Aidan Gillen) works as a prop-maker for British television, designing big heads and big hands and other outlandish things for game shows and the like. This enables audiences to see that Frank is a creative person and hints at the fascinating life he could be leading, if only he applied himself to it.

But he's too busy hanging out with his buds, watching the world go by and dealing with this occasional feeling that something is missing.

Then, while shopping for a new apartment - and even getting up the energy for something as involved as that takes some doing - Frank runs into Ruby (Kate Ashfield), a disarmingly up-front real estate agent who shows him a few flats that even she admits are hovels. Attracted by her honesty and her shy smile, he summons the nerve to ask her out on a date.

The two seem to hit it off, but then, in the time-honored tradition of movie loners everywhere, Frank is overwhelmed by his good fortune. He never manages to say how he feels about her (she's got some issues too, including a resistance to intimacy that Frank deals with by pretending it's not an issue), and soon he's reduced to staring at her from afar, spying on her for no discernible reason other than his chronic tendency to avoid any matter of substance.

You'd think all of this would be headed somewhere, but it really isn't. Frank remains unwilling to wrestle with his demons, and Frank's friends remain unwilling to acknowledge theirs even exist. The entire film is so resolutely downplayed that, when a flash point finally occurs and one of Frank's pals loses it for a moment, it doesn't seem so much a logical progression of the story as an acknowledgment by Thraves that it's time for something to happen.

Gillen and Ashfield do what they can with their characters; he tries to make aimlessness appealing, with mixed results, while her winsome appeal (and vague air of mystery) only serves to deepen our frustration.

"The Low Down" is designed to elicit one question, "What is wrong with this guy?" Unfortunately, it does nothing to help us discover an answer, much less make us care enough to go to the trouble.

`The Low Down'

Starring Aidan Gillen and Kate Ashfield

Written and directed by Jamie Thraves

Released by Shooting Gallery

Rating Unrated (Language, adult situations)

Running time 86 minutes

Sun score * 1/2

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