I’m used to some pretty strange movies landing in theaters for one-week engagements. It’s usually a case of someone in some corporate capacity owing someone a favor, or jockeying for something else down the road. It’s never a case of anyone thinking the film in question is going to actually make money for either party. However, I’ve never encountered a situation like the one with Adam Rifkin’s Look, which has been wedged into a twice nightly engagement for one weekend only. Stranger still is the fact that Look was—ridiculously—shown in December 2007 in New York and Los Angeles in order to qualify for the Oscars (as if). What anyone expects to get out of the film now is beyond me.
The truth is the movie’s not very good. It’s the sort of thing you might expect to encounter as one of the lesser entries at a film festival—something you might see because it sounds mildly intriguing, even though you don’t expect much. Well, not much is what you get with this bargain-basement attempt at Altman. It has “direct to video” written all over it.
Writer-director Adam Rifkin—the man responsible for one of the most loathsome and boring exercises in cinematic dreck I’ve ever encountered, The Dark Backward (1991)—does have an interesting idea here. He’s tapped into the concept of how our lives are documented on a daily basis by surveillance cameras and runs with it, attempting to craft something akin to Altman’s Short Cuts (1993) out of such footage. It’s a clever gimmick, but it rarely gets past the gimmick stage.
Due to the confines of the approach, Rifkin must cheat outrageously. In Rifkin’s world all surveillance cameras have sound, the images are surprisingly clear and varied, and everything that’s said is pinpointed with amazing accuracy with no extraneous chatter or white noise. Setting this aside, the film gets bogged down in bad acting and scenes that go on forever to no real point. Well, there is sort of a point to the excessive convenience-store footage, but it’s the point of a filmmaker who’d love to create a Clerks (1994) of his own. Unfortunately, Rifkin lacks the wit of Kevin Smith, and the material comes across like a five-cent edition of Richard Linklater with its droningly uninteresting dialogue. It doesn’t help that the performers are too clearly showing off for the camera on occasion.
The film is not without certain merits. The manner in which Rifkin has connected his “random” bits of “real life” to form something like a coherent drama is sometimes impressive. It’s noteworthy mixing into a single tapestry footage of a teacher about to make a huge mistake, convenience-store clerks, a pair of serial killers, some teenage Paris Hilton wannabes, a lawyer cheating on his wife with another man, a child murderer, an oversexed department-store stock manager, a nanny cam etc. But ultimately the film keeps tripping over its own gimmicky feet.
With the exception of one denouement—concerning the unravelling of a girl’s story about having been raped—there’s really no reason nor advantage for the film to have been done from its security-camera point of view. Rifkin’s attempt to stick with that concept limits the film’s dramatic range by confining the camera. Even when he cheats by using improbable multiple camera setups to cut within a scene, there’s a sense of the film being held prisoner by its own concept.
What’s remarkable is that any of this scores on a dramatic basis at all, and yet some of it does—the teacher and the sex-crazed teenage student, the married lawyer’s affair. The problem is that it doesn’t score enough to justify recommending shelling out for a full-price ticket to see it. This is strictly home-video material. Rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some violence and brief drug use.