by Jeff Meyers
Twelve years ago, Pulp Fiction exploded onto the screen and turned film geek Quentin Tarantino into the poster boy for every film school student in America. His gritty lowlife characters and pop culture-laden dialogue earned him insta-fame and inspired an endless crop of imitators.
Now, newcomer Frank E. Flowers joins the long list of filmmakers who have brazenly mimicked Tarantino's interconnected story structure while displaying none of his energy, wit or style. A muddled multi-character crime drama set on the Cayman Islands, Haven is destined to beat a hasty retreat to late-night cable where, even there, it's not worth your time.
The film opens with shady American businessman Carl Ridley (Bill Paxton) fleeing to Grand Cayman with the Feds hot on his tail. After dragging along his 18-year-old daughter, Pippa (Agnes Bruckner), and taping a million dollars to his body, Ridley settles into a beachside condo and tries to get ahold of his sleazy offshore broker, Mr. Allen (Stephen Dillane). Pippa, uprooted and lonely, falls in with small-time hood Fritz (Victor Rasuk) and the local drug scene. Of course, Fritz, who owes a favor to a local gangster, has more in mind than just scoring some white girl booty.
Meanwhile, in a parallel yet unconnected plot, poor young fisherman Shy (Orlando Bloom) becomes involved in a clandestine interracial love affair with his boss's teenage daughter, Andrea (Zoe Saldana). Unfortunately, Andrea's violent brother Hammer (Anthony Mackie), a gangster wannabe, despises Shy, the poor kid from the wrong side of the island, and a Romeo and Juliet-inspired tragedy ensues.
Disjointed and complicated by meaningless shifts in time, the dual storylines bounce off each other without flair or an underlying point. Occasionally you get the sense that the director has something to say about class and racial issues, but the message is garbled, a chaotic sprawl of sex, drugs, conspiracy and crime.
With great fanfare, Flowers offers contrived coincidences like one character passing another at a party, displaying the scenes as if they were magnificent sleights of hand. Worse still, the director spends so much time shuffling the storyline that he neglects to develop any of the characters. Rich boy Hammer's desire to become a gangsta, Andrea's tragic decent into debauchery and a racist cop's brutal interest in Fritz all go unexplained. Though some individual moments in the film have dramatic potential, Flowers never follows through.
The esteemed ensemble struggles to flesh out their underwritten roles and ends up giving Haven more cachet than it deserves. One can only conclude that Paxton and Bloom signed on as a way to vacation in paradise.
But despite his many failures, Flowers establishes a wonderful tone. Taking his cue from the sweet, sweaty atmosphere of the tropics (where he resides), the director does a terrific job of capturing the luxurious and volatile nature of the Caribbean. Too bad the seductive beachscapes and threatening sense of solitude promise far more than the film actually delivers.
Showing at the Birmingham 8 (211 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-644-3456) and the AMC Forum 30 (44681 Mound Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-254-5663).
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.