Answers to Nothing
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // $19.98 // February 28, 2012
Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 6, 2012
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Answers to Nothing is the kind of movie the marketing department might describe in sentence fragments. "A missing girl. A cheating husband. A teacher with a secret." True to its title, however, there isn't really much more to learn by watching the film: it's the loosest, laziest collection of threads, haphazardly arranged in a Crash-like pattern, perhaps in the hope that if the threads weave in and out of one another, the film itself will become profound or meaningful. Spoiler alert: it doesn't.

The film is most notable (perhaps notorious) as a dramatic vehicle for comedian Dane Cook. Cook plays a therapist named Ryan, who splits his time between in vitro fertilization with his wife Kate (Elizabeth Mitchell), having sex with his rock star girlfriend Tara (Aja Volkman), and chastizing his mother (Barbara Hershey) for continuing to believe his deadbeat father might turn up for Christmas dinner. To be perfectly honest, Cook is unremarkable but not unfit for the role; the problem lies more in the screenplay by Gillian Vigman and director Matthew Leutwyler.

Beyond Cook, we get more of those sentence-fragment characters: Carter (Mark Kelly), a grade-school teacher who breaks from his "World of Warcraft" knockoff game to watch the nightly news reports about a missing girl; Jerry (Erik Palladino), an unusually nervous police officer; Drew (Miranda Bailey), a reformed alcoholic with a mentally disabled brother, training for a local marathon. Like the Cook story, all of these threads have their speed bumps, their ups and downs, but none of them truly and completely has a conflict. They're moments in time, connected by nothing but the fact that two screenwriters put them all in the same movie. Sure, we find out that Kate is friends with Frankie (Julie Benz), the officer in charge of the missing girl case, and we meet Allegra (Kali Hawk), one of Ryan's patients, what? With the exception of two of these stories, none of the movie ever truly intersects -- it's like watching five or six uninteresting short films all at the same time.

It doesn't help that Leutwyler's direction is dull as dirt. The film opens with a cartoonish "vintage" prologue about Ryan's grandparents that looks like it might've been made in Flash, but after two-plus hours of glossy, handheld footage with shallow focus, I almost yearned for the cheap goofiness of the intro. Much like The Lincoln Lawyer, this looks like a Starz TV show trying to hide its meager budget even before Leutwyler fails to do anything interesting with the camera for the entire movie. If someone told me Answers to Nothing was comprised entirely of amateur Vimeo clips, I would believe it.

The film is not completely without merit: Kelly and Bailey give decent enough performances to gain the goodwill of the viewer, and even Cook shares an okay scene with Hershey when he finally becomes frustrated by her delusions. Yet those scenes don't even make up fifteen minutes of this aimless picture, which collects a bunch of non-stories from around Los Angeles and dumps them in a pile a the viewer's feet with a half-hearted shrug, without any real pretense of the threads playing off of one another or connecting in any serious way. That this approach feels kind of like Leutwyler's intent -- there's that title again -- is only insult to injury.

Given the film itself has no focus, the vague nature of Lionsgate's artwork is to be forgiven. Both sides of the art look like Lionsgate ran it through a generic "out of focus cityscape" template. The only mystery: I don't know why Gilford (whose presence in the movie makes so little impact, I struggled to remember him) makes the front cover and not Barbara Hershey, given the names that earned above-the-title placement.

The Video and Audio
Answers to Nothing gets a remarkably flat 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. As with far too many modern movies, the film has a slightly overcast look, turning whites gray, and, in the case of this presentation, completely removing any sense of depth to the picture. Softness is a problem, both thanks to the limitations of the disc and the obnoxious shallow-depth shots that play with the focus for no real reason, other than the style being in vogue. Like the whites, other colors are intentionally flat. Although I can't remember seeing any specific problems, the image always seems on the verge of artifacts and posterization. It's true that the presentation may be more a victim of the cinematography choices than the transfer to home video, but this is a drab looking film.

Dolby Digital 5.1 audio fares a little better. As one of the characters is a musician, we get some rock songs that are nicely balanced across the surround channels, and there are a few dramatic moments that actually give the track a little something to do with a fistfight or a car crash and it doesn't sound too cheap or flat. Still, the movie is mostly about dialogue, which is surprisingly crisp and clear. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also provided.

The Extras
An audio commentary with director/co-writer Matthew Leutwyler, co-writer Gillian Vigman, producers Sim Sarna and Amanda Marshall, and cinematographer David Jones is included. I admit, I couldn't bring myself to watch all two hours of Answers to Nothing a second time, but a sampling of the commentary suggests it's a pretty lively track, with the participants working up a nice consistent conversation about the movie.

A reel of deleted scenes (20:31) is mostly about an alternate ending that hits its sentimental notes even harder than the existing ending, as well as drawing a direct connection between Frankie and Carter. There's also a lot more of Zach Gilford's completely forgettable character.

Two music videos, for "Iron Man" by Nico Vega (4:55) and "Fade" by Egyptian (3:07) round out the extras.

Trailers for Margin Call, Warrior, Good Luck Chuck, My Best Friend's Girl, and a promo for Epix play before the main menu, and are also accessible from the special features menu. An original theatrical trailer for Answers to Nothing is also included.

At least there's truth in advertising: if you have questions at the beginning, Answers to Nothing will not resolve them. Not to be cruel, but it's an aimless, pointless movie that seems to pat itself on the back for exerting the least amont of effort. Skip it.

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