A buddy/road movie fueled by desperation, Dream With the Fishes begins as an hallucinatory fever dream. In quick strokes, writer-director Finn Taylor establishes the growing desperation of Terry (David Arquette), a nervous and twitchy, prim-looking young man who moves like a somnambulist around a once-orderly apartment filled with photographs of a single woman.
Terry, whose occupation is never identified, is a voyeur, and he positions himself in front of a window with his binoculars to watch the troubled Nick (Brad Hunt) and Liz (Kathryn Erbe) fight and make love, as if watching his favorite television show.
On this particular night, Terry dresses in a suit, heads to the local liquor store and then to one of San Francisco's spectacular bridges. But in the nervous moments before jumping, he's accosted by Nick, who functions as an oddly effective suicide heckler and talks Terry out of his dive.
The two strike up an unlikely alliance based on their proximity to death. Terry, who no longer wants to live, accompanies Nick, who's dying of an unnamed disease (which dramatically gives him only a few weeks to live) on a wish-fulfillment binge. Showy sequences played for humor (naked bowling, dropping acid at an amusement park) are balanced with more serious unfinished business in Nick's sleepy hometown.
Dream With the Fishes has the loopy, goofy appeal of early 1970s trip movies (a physical-cum-spiritual journey), heightened by cinematographer Barry Stone's striking, high-contrast color photography.
The performances make or break this type of film, particularly since Finn Taylor (Pontiac Moon) has created characters who have little connection to a specific reality. Erbe (Rich in Love) anchors the film as the smart and centered erotic obsession of both men. Arquette (Scream), who initially seems like he's ready to climb out of his own skin, slowly and methodically finds his footing.
But Hunt manages to capture Nick's stubborn charisma only sporadically, and Dream With the Fishes shares this quality. It isn't nearly as compelling or profound as it's meant to be.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.