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The existence of Powder Blue suggests that sex does not, in fact, sell.  The film gained some notoriety when it was revealed that star Jessica Biel went topless for her role as a stripper, and then again when pictures of said stripping floated around the internet.  But it never made it into theaters, rather quietly going straight to DVD in May.

Powder Blue is one of those multiple intersecting storylines with an ensemble cast kind of deals.  Except the storylines barely intersect, instead there are sort of two focal points.  Biel is one of them,  she has a small son in the hospital who has been in a coma for a long time.  Ray Liotta plays the dad she never knew she had, just released from prison after a couple of decades, he’s also dying.  Patrick Swayze is the manager of the strip club where she works.  The other focal point is Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker who has been suicidal since he lost his wife.  But since he’s a former priest, he can’t kill himself, instead he’s looking to pay someone to kill him.  Which leads him to a transsexual prostitute and later an undertaker (Eddie Redmayne, who eventually hooks up with Biel).  He also befriends a waitress (Lisa Kudrow).  Oh, and Oscar-nominee Kris Kristofferson is in the film for a scene.  But it was the first scene, so it was pretty upsetting not to see him come back.

The thing about Powder Blue is that it is pretty darn boring.  While writer-director Timothy Linh Bui’s script actually does attempt to provide nuanced takes on a number of interesting concepts dealing with relationships and death, it fails to make anything compelling.  The film, alas, compensates for moving slowly by not going anywhere.  Which is sad, because I think the cast is an intriguing group of people.

Indeed, whenever Bui can be bothered to quit his meandering and get to some sort of revelation (which he’s usually been building to for some time), he refuses to explore the impact of the reveal, instead quickly reverting back to the meandering.  Which obviously can get frustrating, as it feels like a deliberate attempt to make the movie less enjoyable.  Besides, when you have Liotta, Swayze, and Whitaker, you have to just let them do their thing.  If you can’t give Liotta the space to be creepy, or Swayze the space to be completely over the top, why bother?

Finally, back to Jessica Biel.  It doesn’t work (well, other than that she’s a beautiful woman).  Her nudity feels forced and unnecessary for a variety of reasons.  First, her character embodies just about every stripper movie cliche you can think of.  And whenever we see a glimpse of something halfway original, Bui, as mentioned, quickly moves on.  Second, frankly, her dances aren’t all that erotic.  Which kinda feels like it should be intentional (given certain plot elements), but isn’t.  And last, it suggests an unwritten rule: If the only reason to watch a film is to see X get naked, then you don’t actually want to see that film.

July 2009
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