Thursday, March 18, 2010

Retro Review: Havoc (2005)

These days, Havoc (2005) is best known as the crappy flick where Anne Hathaway takes her shirt off, but it’s so much more and less than that.  It’s a low-budget Hollywood film that never made a dime at the Box Office, but became something along the lines of a name brand when it’s “sequel”, Havoc 2: Normal Adolescent Behavior, was released in 2007.  And that film wasn’t actually a sequel at all; just another flick about teenagers escaping boredom by lashing out at society, sold by people who thought name-dropping a straight-to-DVD disaster was a GOOD idea...

  The script for Havoc was originally penned by a 14-year-old West L.A. girl named Jessica Kaplan back in the mid-90s, based on her own experiences and observations as a bored teenager lashing out at society.  Her story sold to New Line Cinema for $150,000.  It then sat around for a decade before Stephen Gaghan was brought in for a rewrite in 2003.  That’s right, Stephen Gaghan.  Stephen fucking Gaghan.  As in, “Oscar-winning writer of Traffic (2000)” Stephen Gaghan.

  Let me take this opportunity to remind you of two things: 1.) this movie is not good.  2.) this movie, despite paying ridiculous sums of money to a 14-year-old girl and possibly the highest paid writer in Hollywood at the time, went straight to DVD.

  Mandy Moore signed on.  Mandy Moore dropped out.  Mandy Moore didn’t want to take her shirt off.

  Enter Hathaway, fresh from The Princess Diaries (2001) and Ella Enchanted (2004), looking Princess Diaries 2 (2004) dead in the eye.  Anne Hathaway was a rising star, a good wholesome Disney girl pegged as the next Meryl Streep/Julia Roberts/great, marketable actress of her time.  Anne Hathaway wanted to take her shirt off.

  Havoc was supposed to be her down-and-dirty art flick cred.  In it, she plays a spoiled little rich girl from a semi-broken home (mom and dad are “working through it”) who’s fallen in with the local white gangster wannabes.  One night she gets a taste of the real thing, ditches the wannabes and, cause this is story time, gets in way over her head.  The lesson: know where you belong.  For Hathaway, it’s a lesson learned too late.

  Hathaway got her cred later with Rachel Getting Married (2008), and she earned it.  It was the right role at the right time, the perfect combination of naughty and nice.  But in Havoc, she’s desperate, and trying way too hard to prove she’s more than her niche.

  She isn’t the only one.  A few names down the credit roll you’ll find Joseph Gordon-Levitt, no doubt still haunted by his great but career-limiting times on 3rd Rock from the Sun.  He’d soon make indie waves with Brick (2005) and The Lookout (2007), and become one of Hollywood’s most promising leading men in 2009.  But when Havoc was shot in 2003, he - like Hathaway but with more to prove - was still a desperate young actor willing to throw himself into the shit. 

  He’s relegated to backup dancer duty in Havoc, playing a whack sidekick in a Palisades “gang.” His character is pathetic, a kid drowning in exaggerated ebonics and two-sizes too-big gangsta threads.  Gordon-Levitt is terrible, but it’s hard to tell if that’s his fault, or the fault of the character he plays too well.  Either way it’s hard to watch.

  Desperate young actors playing desperate young teens is sort of the theme here.  Channing Tatum’s in it, with all of four scenes and two lines.  Indie darling Bijou Phillips was still trying to make it big, and willing to go further than Hathaway to do so.  Shiri Appleby (of TV’s Roswell and Life Unexpected) drops by for a couple of scenes.  And Freddy Rodriguez plays Hathaway’s gangsta in dirty armor. 

  And they’re all drowning in Havoc’s over-priced, over-indulgent material.   As an essay on the impact of hip-hop culture on white American teens, it’s somewhere between James Toback’s superior Black and White (1999) and Jamie Kennedy’s Malibu’s Most Wanted (2003), which is also superior, but for a different reason.  Kennedy got the joke.  Havoc isn’t supposed to, but neither do its characters, and it’s hard to take them seriously.  The film offers no reasoning for the gangsta obsession, no psychosis for its lost souls.  They’re strutting, jiving jokes, tragic in ignorance but also, and more importantly, pointlessness.  The film argues that it’s teens act the way they do because they’re “really fucking bored.”  So are half the teens in America.  Probably the world.  So why, then, don’t they all act like these kids?  What sets THESE kids apart from the rest?
  Havoc isn’t interested in reason.  It isn’t even committed enough to finish it’s own story.  It’s a meek, desperate “what if” full of actors asking the same thing.  And nobody likes the answer.

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