"Jam" is a great big pile-up of a movie. More than just contrived or hokey, the film stuffs itself full of sitcom characters and the sort of situations that would get rejected from bottom rung TV dramas. It's tough to sell an intricately interwoven character study when there's not a single thread worth watching.
Adapted and expanded from the earlier short film of the same name, "Jam," from director Craig Serling and writers Serling and Nicole Lonner, tells of a mountain road traffic accident that leaves a handful of weary travelers stranded for a long, hot ninety minutes. (Nobody thought of just turning around, it seems, nor did anyone feel like hiking to nearby civilization.) Each car has a story to tell, and soon everyone's walking about, getting in each others' business, and generally having one of those life-changing "Breakfast Club" kind of days.
Oh, and it's Father's Day, so all the stories will have something to do with parenting and/or relationships. Even the cellist (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who was riding alone eventually breaks out some revelations about her own dad, because that's how this movie works.
Other characters include: a troubled teen (Dan Byrd) doesn't get along with his recovering alcoholic father (William Forsythe); a couple of idiotic yuppies (Jonathan Silverman and Julie Claire) are carrying a baby doll around as training for the real thing; an older couple (Alex Rocco and Tess Harper) exist merely as dispensers of greater wisdom; a divorced dad (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his young kids (Marissa Blanchard and Skyler Gisondo) are dealing with a broken family and the possibility of further separation; three dimwitted gals (Amanda Detmer, Elizabeth Bogush, and Amanda Foreman) are stressing out over how one of them is about to get married to the wrong guy, but she just wants a family, etc.
None of these people ever ring true in their behavior, their attitudes, or their revelations, conveniently sprinkled throughout the script at key beat points. But none of them have anything on the final group of this story. You see, a lesbian couple, cleverly named Lilac (Gina Torres) and Rose (Mariah O'Brien), go into a panic when Rose goes into labor. Struggling to find a place to comfortably give birth (while others in the story cruelly ignore them), the duo barges into a camper, one that's been stolen by Curt (Christopher Amitrano) and Jerry (David DeLuise), two crooks so bumbling they deserve their own 1960s live action Disney comedy. (They've just stolen an ATM and have been hard at work trying to open it.) The four split their time arguing about the logistics of giving birth in an RV and shouting about the politics of same-sex parenting.
There are many, many close-up shots of Rose screaming through her labor pains while Curt and Jerry remind her to push, and that's the sort of dopey, hackneyed material we're stuck watching throughout the entire film. The comedy throughout is broad and embarrassing, the drama is sappy and ridiculous. And composer Andy Kubiszewski isn't above putting bouncy "comedy" music under the yuppie storyline, just to remind us just how kooky they are.
It's rather disheartening to see the cast try to work their way through all of this mess. Most of the cast gets buried under the trite dialogue and weak plotting, while a few - namely Torres, Jean-Baptiste, and Forsythe - come out with their integrity intact. (Rocco and Harper, meanwhile, aren't really given anything to do other than deliver generic advice, and they come off just fine.)
But oh, what trite dialogue, and oh, what weak plotting. The screenplay is a monstrosity of cheap symbolism (a melting wedding cake becomes an in-your-face metaphor for the character's growing realization of a doomed marriage), lazy exposition (everything said or shown in the first fifteen minutes is in the form of awkward, nobody-really-talks-like-that dialogue), and, later, laughable story turns (one of the young women comes on to the teen son).
The whole thing plays like a clumsily written and poorly performed stage play, the kind that really wants to say important things about the human condition but can't get beyond its own lousiness. It's an indie melodrama slathered in its own earnestness and depth, but no matter how much it wants us to take it seriously, all we can do is roll our eyes and slam on the horn.
Video & Audio
Shot on 16mm film, "Jam" shows an expected amount of grain and softness, with muted colors doing little to play up the mountain road angle. A minor amount of aliasing is present but never really distracts. Presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen format with anamorphic enhancement.
The dialogue-heavy soundtrack comes across reasonably well in its Dolby 5.1 presentation. The DVD cover also lists a stereo track, but that's a misprint (there is a stereo track, but it's the filmmaker commentary). No subtitles are offered.
The commentary with Serling, cinematographer Jeff Vinditti, and composer Kubiszewski is a mostly chatty affair, as the three pepper each other with enough questions to keep things chugging along at a reasonable pace.
"When Lives Collide" (16:11) offers making-of details through interviews with Serling and Lonner, heavily padded with clips from the movie.
You can watch two short deleted scenes (1:53), both involving the single dad storyline, with or without Serling's commentary; neither scene has any impact on the story.
The film's trailer is also included, as are a set of other Starz/Anchor Bay previews. (Those same previews play as the disc loads; you can skip past them if you choose.)
As usual with Anchor Bay (now Starz), all of the bonus features and trailers are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Finally, the screenplay is included as a PDF file accessible through the disc's DVD-Rom content.
"Jam" wants to be sincere, but there's not a moment here that doesn't play out like a horrible sitcom. Skip It.