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6A - Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

6A - Wednesday, September 29, 2010 The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom

Bore times galore in
Solondzs 'Wartime'

J.J. Abrams spies on NBC

Astounding art
direction can't save
recycled premise in
meandering film
By JOSHUA BAYER
Daily Arts Writer
"Life During Wartime" could
possibly be the most boring film
ever written about pedophiles.
Which isn't all that surprising,
considering this
is the second ' -
movie writer-
director Todd Life During
Solondz ("Wel- Warim
come to the
Dollhouse") has At the State
devoted to the IFC
subject.
Solondz has
always had a soft spot for stomach-
churning shock value, penning jet-
black comedies about phone sex
addicts, teen pregnancy and every-
thing in between. But while he's
never quite broken out of his psy-
chosexual muckraker mold, "Life
During Wartime" is his first film to
feel like pure retread.
In fact, "Wartime" essentially
plays like a half-assed remake of
Solondz's "Happiness" (his other
pedophile flick): The opening scene
is a lampoon of the opening scene
in "Happiness," a large majority of
the characters' names - and types
- are recycled and entire conversa-
tions provoke an eye-rolling sense
of ddjk vu. (Seriously, how many
times can we watch children ask-
ing their parents about male-on-
male rape before it gets old? Twice,
apparently.)
But, unlike "Happiness," "War-
time" doesn't crawl under your
skin. While the film's subject mat-
ter makes it sufficiently uncom-
fortable to watch throughout, the
movie never quite punches you
in the gut the way it wants to -
partially due to the script's auto-

By DAVID RIVA
DailyArts Writer
When a pilot opens with a roof-
top chase scene - loaded with
gunshots, broken
windows, balcony -***
jumps and fast-
paced, dizzying Undercovers
editing to keep up
with all the com- Wednesdays
motion - it seems at 8p.m.
destined to fall NBC
into the ranks of
forgotten action-adventure televi-
sion shows.
But just when it would be easi-
est to dismiss "Undercovers," a
subsequent scene shows its main
characters taking part in peanut-
butter hinging and tooth brush-
ing before bedtime. These tropes
of the domestic drama signal that
the show will likely combine two of
television's most stale genres.
This dichotomy between the
enthralling uncertainty of the
detective world and the comfort-
able monotony of the "normal"
world is rightfully established early
on in the first episode of"Undercov-
ers" and is the show's most appar-
ent and oft-exploited strength.
Steven Bloom (Boris Kodjoe,
"Soul Food") and his wife Saman-
tha (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, "Doctor
Who") are torn between these two
worlds and faced with a difficult

decision
the CIAr
vices. Nei
have bee
eral year
age a bo
Even tho
careers to
stability,t
tunity is b
The de
in Steven
not onlyt
of the day
nant rela
selves in
solving c
feet dash
needs to
each othe
Th
lif
1
S.
As a co
tha thriv
situations
rable exc
bad guys
Samanth
of an air
casuallyi

when a messenger from she once dated. These instances
requests the couple's ser- help to develop a strong dynamic
ither Steven nor Samantha between the couple as they try to
n active agents for sev- outdo one another with witty lines.
s, opting instead to man- Even though this is similar to the
oming catering business. behavior of Brad Pitt and Angelina
ugh they ended their CIA Jolie in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," the
o start a life of routine and crime-fighting couple is a concept
this one-and-done oppor- still fresh enough to hold an audi-
too good to pass up. ence's attention.
esire for some excitement Despite the strength of the main
i's and Samantha's lives is characters, the supporting cast is
triggered by the dullness severely lacking in depth. From the
y to day, but also by a stag- geeky CIA fanboy who can't stop
ationship. Putting them- calling Steven a legend to Saman-
risky situations while tha's sister who can't seem to get
rimes together is the per- anything right, the minor roles are
i of spice that the couple filled with poorly written character
restore their passion for sketches.
r. After successfully completing
their first mission while growing
closer to each other, the Blooms
decide to accept an offer to con-
le domestic tinue working for the CIA. The
eof a CIA biggest question at the end of the
show, however, is just how long
pycouple. the couple will be able to continue
PY solvingcases that will stay interest-
ing., The fast-paced nature of the
show will alienate those looking
ouple, Steven and Saman- for an easy domestic drama while
'e in these high-pressure the romantic subtext might make
s and have some memo- an action-adventure enthusiast a
hanges while fighting off bit uncomfortable. Regardless of
. Take the scene in which its future, the pilot of "Undercov-
a is about to sky-dive out ers" adds some much-needed spice
plane. As she jumps, she to two of television's most common
informs Steven of a man genres.

*1

"Ice cream?"
plagiarism and partially due to its
on-the-nose-ness.
"Wartime" would be the per-
fect film to show in screenwrit-
ing classes as a textbook example
of how not to write an ensemble
character study. New characters
crop up in nearly every scene, but
instead of adding layers of psycho-
logical complexity they simply sit
around and speak squarely about
their emotions.
Virtually every encounter
involves bruised souls reuniting,
conversing blandly about how glad
they are to see each other and "how
hard" things must have been, and
then seeking some form of mutual
forgiveness. Although it's likely
that Solondz is satirizing the hum-
drum pettiness of human frailty,
this sort of therapy-by-the-num-
bers scripting gets old fast.
It's as if Solondz was sweating
so hard to juggle as many motifs
as possible that he completely for-
got to flesh out engaging scenar-
ios. Every adult male in the film
is either a pedophile or suspected
of being one, multiple characters
sermonize vaguely about "pretend-
ing" (as if they're all on some sort
of telepathic hotline together) and
- gasp - the film actually makes
continuous references to the fact
that our country is at war! How
subversive!
Thankfully, Solondz's knack for

facetiously twisted art direction is
in full force. Only he would choose
to depict a 12-year-old boy holding
a Twinkie after learning his ped-
erast father is still alive. And the
subtle way in which he juxtaposes
his disturbed characters against
garishly bright blow-up pools
and perfectly spherical hedges in
order to make them appear even
more displaced is nothing short of
genius.
While the majority of the script
may read like an incredibly ineffi-
cient public service announcement,
most of the acting is spot-on. Alli-
son Janney ("Juno") stealsthe show
as a scatterbrained Jewish mother
in limbo between cocooning her
children and absentmindedly cor-
rupting them. And newcomer
Dylan Riley Snyder devastates as a
preteen coming to terms with the
fact that his long lost father sodom-
ized boys his age, his involuntary
lip-quivers provoking the classic
Solondz squirm reflex.
In the end, "Wartime" is little
more than a caricature of Solon-
dz's already relentlessly satirical
aesthetic. While Solondz surely
deemed it clever to write about a
pseudo-rehabilitated phone sex
offender who "only dials on
Sundays now," it's this sort of
tongue-in-cheek indulgence that
ultimately prevents the film from
being genuinely disturbing.

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