"The Local," an indie effort from writer/director/star Dan Eberle, wants so very much to be a solemn, raw urban drama. The gritty photography lingers on long, quiet shots while some haunting score plays softly on the soundtrack. We're jolted into reality with quick bursts of violence, but those soon pass as we drift back into an introspective drama where characters discuss fate and hope and the ability to rewrite your future. Junkies and thugs crawl out of the corners while Brooklynites spit swear words in thick accents.
But at the core of all this lies a dopey little action movie, the sort of cheapjack streetwise effort that would've fit right in at the neighborhood grindhouse, maybe on a double bill with something starring Fred Williamson. Eberle plays a nameless (the DVD cover cleverly calls him "Noname"), homeless drug runner who, in between deals gone bad and attempts to find redemption, is hired by a wealthy gentleman into rescuing his daughter from the clutches of the heroin den she's called home for some time now.
It's the sort of story they'd churn out by the dozens in the 1970s and 80s, easy action fare where we get to boo the druggies and the yuppies alike while cheering on the hero as he cracks skulls and finds his heart in the woman he's saved. There are glimpses of that sort of movie here; Eberle allows himself a few beat-'em-up scenes where his mysterious character lays into the villains with ruthless precision, suggesting a history as an mixed martial artist champ or a Green Beret or perhaps Batman. (It's not clear if the filmmaker is using a rapid-beyond-comprehensible-motion editing style in these sequences to copy the look of modern action films or to simply hide the fact that nobody working on the film has proper stage combat training.) There's a crude meanness to the action that fits nicely with the overall tone. From this, Eberle could've built himself an enjoyably nasty piece of cheap inner city action.
Alas, he's chosen another route. Which begs the question: why bother with the action stuff? If it's drama Eberle was after, why halt the story to throw in unnecessary fight scenes? We don't need them to contemplate the nameless hero's harsh past; it's brought up enough through dialogue to keep it on our minds. Plus, there's the facial scar make-up to remind us even more of his badassery.
To his credit, Eberle makes some of the dramatics work on their own. There's an interesting subplot involving one of the hero's customers, a woman dying of cancer who urges him to better himself. Dialogue between the hero and the rich man who hires him has a crisp rhythm, a sort of snappy sleaze that keeps the grimier side of the story bouncing along quite nicely. And the finale is earnestly heartfelt and well-earned in terms of the hero's inner struggles.
But these scenes are too scattered and thin, and the whole thing crawls along at a snail's pace, leaving us bored with too many in between bits. Eberle too often mistakes meandering for introspection, and "The Local" winds up circling the same point long after it's worn out its welcome. His character's journey would've fit quite nicely into a half-hour short film, but at feature length, there's not much more to do but to rehash worn-out plot points, biding time until the finale rolls around. And his performance does a fine job of painting a portrait of a meathead caught in a bad place, but he never brings enough energy to the role. As a director, he does squeeze in some lovely stand-alone moments, but these never gel with the action bits, which seem shoehorned in (as does the occasional T&A) as a means of satisfying a certain audience type that, let's face it, won't want to bother with the brooding stuff.
Video & Audio
Vanguard Cinema has provided us with a DVD-R screener copy for review. The compressed disc is not enough to base a proper review on the audio-visual side, so all we can tell you for now is that the film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack. No subtitles are included.
If a final retail copy makes it our way, we'll be sure to update this review accordingly.
The film's trailer (1:21; 1.78:1 anamorphic) is included.
Despite hints of better material (of either the somber or sleazy variety), there's just not enough to "The Local" to make it work. It's too smart to work as a dumb movie, and too dumb to work as a smart one, and the clumsy mix frustrates. Skip It.