Dot the i has been languishing on a shelf since it was completed in 2003, resurrected presumably to take advantage of Gael García Bernal's current rising star. Perhaps it should have stayed on the shelf.
Director-writer Matthew Parkhill's first and only feature is high in flash and gimmick but short on substance and character development. It's a pretty picture that leaves us with nothing to chew on afterward. However, that's more than one might get from the average summer blockbuster, so Dot the i might be worth a look, if only to bask in Bernal's appeal, which made him so captivating in Y Tu Mama Tambien and Motorcycle Diaries. Bernal brings a casual grace to every scene, even the dreadful ones, and flirts with the camera in a way that recalls a young Robert Redford. He plays Kit, a struggling actor living in London. Kit falls for soon-to-be-wed flamenco dancer-burger flipper Carmen, played by Argentine actress Natalia Verbeke, who's like a sultrier Jennifer Lopez with acting chops. Carmen has a troubled past, and she clings to the sanctuary she finds with stuffy fiance Barnaby (James D'Arcy), but can't shake her fiery feelings for Kit.
For at least the first two-thirds of the movie, Parkhill creates an almost believable triad of amour, skillfully delivering two sex scenes that illustrate Carmen's dilemma one astonishingly wooden and the other dripping with passion. At the same time, Parkhill also delivers one of the least-inspired dance sequences ever recorded. Supposedly Carmen is seducing Kit, but instead Verbeke awkwardly clomps around on stage and the camera fumbles for a shot that could pass for artistic.
Parkhill uses camera tricks to infuse the unfolding romance with a sense of creepiness: short flashes of images or scenes, which hint that everything is not what it seems. The director also uses grainy handheld footage to build the suspicion that someone is watching Carmen, perhaps suggesting that one of these men she trusts is up to no good, or that something from her past is going to bubble up.
Parkhill has mastered the foreplay, tugging us along with bits of intrigue and innuendo. When he exposes the big surprise, however, the movie takes a turn for the ludicrous worst, emptying his characters of what little depth and credibility he had built up, and deflating the emotional core of the movie.
In the end, Dot the i is punctuated with twists that feel stale and contrived, and winds up smelling like it passed its expiration date two years ago.
Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.