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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Havoc (Unrated)
Havoc (Unrated)
New Line // R // November 29, 2005
List Price: $19.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 22, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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There's one reason most people clicked into this review of Havoc, and it's not because documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple and Traffic scribe Stephen Gaghan both have Academy Awards and a slew of other critical accolades spilling off their mantles. No, it's because Anne Hathaway, the squeaky-clean star of such Disney films as The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted, decided she didn't want to be typecast as the squeaky-clean star of such Disney films as The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted, and Havoc is about as far removed from that G-rated fare as Hathaway could get without appearing spreadeagle on the cover and tucked away in the backroom of the video store.

Havoc follows a group of bored teenagers from Pacific Palisades, California. Their parents are impossibly wealthy, and these highschoolers' way of wading through the tedium is through drug use and by pretending they're the sort of thugs they watch in three minute spurts on MTV. Their idea of a gang lifestyle is filtered through a Jay-Z video, and when they've had their fun, they go back to their palatial, sprawling mansions, put on their jammies, and kiss their mommies on the cheek before guzzling a tall glass of O.J. the next morning. On a whim, Allison (Anne Hathaway), her poseur lover, and some of her friends decide to venture out of their cushy resort community and try to score some drugs from a Latino gang. Although things don't go entirely according to plan -- Allison's boyfriend cowers on his knees and pisses himself when an attempt at getting tough backfires -- they're enthralled by that first-hand taste of a lifestyle they'd only sampled in watered-down versions on music videos and on DVD. Allison and her best friend Emily (Bijou Phillips) keep heading downtown, dolled up like they'd just strolled off the set of a Jennifer Lopez video and determined to become a part of a real gang. Sleazy drug peddler Hector (Freddy Rodriguez) offers them that chance, but like the cliché goes, "be careful what you ask for...", as Hector and his friends take exactly what you think testosterone-dripping, heavily tattooed thugs would want from a couple of cute, naive teenage girls.

Havoc plays extensively with the concept of identity. Hector and the other gang members can pass themselves off as thugs-with-hearts-of-gold -- they can even wear collared, buttoned shirts -- but they're animals at heart. Allison's circle of wannabes is deluded enough to think that they're in the same league as the thugs they see on TV, and even after Hector publicly humiliates one of them, Toby (Mike Vogel) gives the story a different spin and boasts about it the next day at school. Allison knows there's no substance to her charade as she continually switches to whatever guise best suits her needs at a particular time, so closely defining herself in terms of different stereotypes that glimpses of the 'real' Allison are rare. Allison's so aware of this that her conversations with documentarian Eric (Matt O'Leary) take on a detached, third-person quality when she describes herself.

While it's a mildly interesting diversion to put that sort of quasi-academic spin on things, I wasn't all that impressed by Havoc, which is a shame because it has a strong set of lead actors. Havoc is the sort of movie where the depths to which its characters sink seems to be its primary focus, and the only 'shock' moments that had any impact with me were what Bijou Phillips endures in its final half-hour, and it's a shame that her performance will probably be overshadowed by the fact that Anne Hathaway bares her breasts a few times. That's not to take away from what Hathaway contributes; as manipulative as her character is, there's a fundamental longing and unhappiness behind her character that makes Allison somewhat sympathetic, and Hathaway does a remarkable job balancing those extremes. I was also impressed with Freddy Rodriguez, who manages to make Hector simultaneously charming and repulsive, and it's not difficult to see why Allison would be so intrigued by him.

A few good actors can only elevate mediocre material so far, and Havoc's biggest problem is that there really isn't much of a story. A group of bored white kids pretend to be gangsters, get ensnared with a real Latino gang, and find their sheltered innocence shattered. Who cares? Although it's easy to criticize Requiem for a Dream for going too far over the top with what it subjects its characters to, at least it had some sort of emotional resonance. Requiem... humanized its characters well enough that I didn't want to see them take that dark tailspin. The final half-hour in Havoc starts to move in that direction in the aftermath of a gang rape, but up to that point, it's a thin story with anemic characterization and lightweight shocks. In particular, any of the scenes with the male members of Allison and Emily's Pacific Palisades crew are agonizing. I understand that the whole point is that these clueless kids are mimicking what they're watching on MTV and that there's no authenticity whatsoever to their thug charade, but...yikes, their "holla atcha boy like a muthafukka, dawg" dialogue makes Malibu's Most Wanted seem gritty and edgy.

I didn't have a copy of the R-rated edition handy to compare, but it's not tough to guess where the differences probably are in this unrated DVD. There's quite a bit of explicit drug use in the movie, as Allison and her friends experiment with cocaine, pot, and crack, some of which might have been pared down in the R-rated cut. There are three scenes with nudity, the first of which has Allison tearing off her top and ferociously diving headfirst into her boyfriend's crotch. She mock-masturbates for a camera in another scene, pulling down her bra and exposing a nipple. The third and final scene -- the most unsettling in the movie -- is a gang initiation in a sleazy motel room that quickly turns violent. Although its characters' sexuality is almost certainly what will drive most people to Havoc, it's worth mentioning that there's nothing sexy about these nude scenes, and that's by design. These are children whose sexuality is a weapon they have no clue how to wield competently, and the sex is dark and sticky, not overromanticized with diffused lighting and a Cinemax After Dark jazzy soundtrack. In a way, that's too bad -- if the movie had been more mindlessly titillating, at least it'd be an easier sell. As it is, Havoc is too uneven to recommend with any enthusiasm.

Video: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen video is typical for such a recent production -- detailed, clean and clear ...you should have the laundry list committed to memory by now. Colors appear to be accurately rendered, and harkening back to screenwriter Stephen Gaghan's Traffic, a fair amount of it was shot through a blue filter. No complaints.

Audio: Havoc features an assortment of different soundtracks -- a 448Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, a DTS track, and a stereo surround downmix. The DTS track is fine but fairly uneventful, not that that's unexpected from a drama driven more heavily by its imagery and performances than by car chases or shootouts. The surrounds are used often for heavy ambiance, although they replicate the boisterous party atmosphere a little too well, not quite overwhelming the dialogue but not too far off. And, of course, with a movie teeming with this many wannabe gangbangers, the requisite hip-hop-heavy soundtrack gives the subwoofer a pretty heavy thump at times. Pretty much what you'd expect an urban teen drama to sound like, I guess. The DVD is closed captioned and offers subtitles in English and Spanish.

Supplements: The only extra is a trailer, which is presented in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. There are also plugs for a few other New Line releases.

Havoc comes packaged in a keepcase, and there's no insert, or at least there isn't one that has anything to do with the movie. The DVD sports a set of 16x9 animated menus and a total of 20 chapter stops.

Conclusion: Although buoyed by a couple of strong lead performances, Havoc is more memorable for some uncharacteristic nudity from one of its stars than its thin story and meager insight. A middling movie that's best suited for a rental. Rent It.
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