Saturday 4 August 2018

Movie Review: The American Side (2016)

A neo-noir detective thriller, The American Side has stylish intentions but is over-plotted and under-produced.

In the Buffalo and Niagara Falls area, crooked small-time private investigator Charlie Paczynski (Greg Stuhr) is stunned when his partner Kat (Kelsey Siepser) is shot and killed during a seemingly routine entrapment operation targeting Tom Soberin (Harris Yulin). Charlie starts to ask questions and kick down doors, only for Soberin to turn up dead in the river. Distraught scientific researcher Nikki Meeker (Alicja Bachleda) was also looking for Soberin and approaches Charlie for help.

Charlie's investigation leads him to competing industrialists Borden Chase (Matthew Broderick) and Sterling Whitmore (Robert Forster), who are both looking for a secret design by famous inventor Nikola Tesla that could alter human destiny. Borden's sister Emily (Camilla Belle) may have her own agenda, government Agent Barry (Janeane Garofalo) is tracking down the bad guys, local police detectives are chasing shadows, and a group of Serbian thugs are just as intent on getting their hands on Tesla's drawings.

Directed by Jenna Ricker and co-written by Stuhr, The American Side is an independent, low-budget production, aiming to recreate classic noir style and mood. Attempting to breathe deeply from the Buffalo setting and the energy of the roaring Niagara Falls, the film is unfortunately just plain hokey, an almost laughably amateurish juxtaposition of 1940s attitude and dialogue with an incongruous modern setting seemingly devoid of cell phones and computers.

Borrowing heavily from films like The Maltese Falcon, Kiss Me Deadly and The Third Man, The American Side never finds its own voice, and remains a mishmash of ideas barely held together by a poorly developed, derivative and over-burdened plot full of holes, inconsistencies and loose ends. Despite the presence of talent like Broderick, Forster, Yulin, Garofalo and none other than Robert Vaughn, the acting is uniformly wooden and the lines of dialogue are read with little conviction.

Some of the visuals capture the noir spirit, a few of the snarky lines do land effectively, and with better direction and a polished script Greg Stuhr can be imagined as an effective and seedy anti-hero. But here the action is clunky, good intentions slipping into the waterfall, drowning in the whoosh of an unforgiving talent deficit.

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