(Image: Variety)

(Image: Variety)


Have you ever watched a movie and thought the resulting entertainment experience you observed was beneath one or more of the actors or filmmakers involved, meaning it was lower than their talent or stature?  Lists are out there, but lately these occurrences seem to be a performer cashing in a blockbuster paycheck like seeing Anthony Hopkins in a Michael Bay Transformers flick.  For the low-budget independent film Krystal, money can’t be the excuse for those involved.  This mess of a film is beneath just about everyone involved.  

Fashioning itself as a coming-of-age dramedy, Krystal scratches out frank dialogue emoting on behalf of overly honest hearts.  It banks on mixing sentiment built on pleasantries laced with profanity. All kinds of abrupt dysfunction and daffy discombobulation try to be endearing entanglements for entertainment, but the result is a really uneven piece of batty humor and grating romance that can’t even fake enough worthwhile triumph to earn a wasted score from Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Dan Romer.  The spirited composer’s craft is finer than this film.  

Soaring on a current high after Love, Simon extending an already winning record for coming-of-age films since 2013’s Kings of Summer, Nick Robinson is Taylor Ogburn, a soulful and polite southern boy with a rare (and on-the-nose ironic) heart condition.  Stress and excitement can spike his heartbeat to over 200 beats per minute to a heart attack level without warning. Robinson’s drawl-tinged voiceovers describe his forlorn search for inspiring love to take him above the safe settings and situations of tranquility he is forced to see out to avoid cardiac triggers.  The raucous college environment is out of the question, so he floats around his hometown with well-mannered, yet off-the-charts, naivety.

A breathtaking encounter with a beautiful and soaking wet woman on the beach named Krystal sparks an episodic emergency for Taylor.  Instantly lovestruck and convinced their chance meeting is more than an accident even after a visit to the emergency room, Taylor works hard to court this woman with cockamamie attempts to look cool with alcohol, pot, and motorcycles.  The titular object of affection, played by top-billed Rosario Dawson, is a recovering addict and alcoholic in the program with a handicapped teenage son.

For anyone who’s seen Detroit, Sleight, and The Maze Runner, being the introverted sidebar tag-along buddy in a wheelchair is beneath Jacob Latimore, even by Collateral Beauty standards.  The moments of bonding between Nick’s Taylor and Jacob’s Bobby are flimsy and fleeting.  The assumed trying history of Krystal’s past and likely parenting challenges are an ignored place where greater connections could have been formed to make the character meaningful rather than a token obstacle for a parent who can’t fire up romance.

Even with stepping up from the TV superhero ranks to a feature film, playing a distracting and mildly eccentric artist is beneath the appeal of Grant Gustin.  The most he adds is being the firestarter for marijuana to be Krystal’s most overused plot device.  These characters (and the script) go to the well, more like the joint, far too often and with little humorous effect.

Speaking of haze, Krystal is beneath the steady dependability that should be a bonus boost from the “with” casting label of having William Fichtner.  Normally a professional movie villain, it’s a positive, albeit minor, treat to see Fichtner given a lighter and comedic part.  As the Dr. Farley, the ER doctor always on the unlucky hook for treating Taylor, he does his best with the role from his weathered sarcasm to pitiful pot-smoke.

The same can be said for Oscar winner Kathy Bates, who gets the special “and” in the headlining credits.  Her role as Taylor’s well-meaning art gallery boss for Taylor is a glorified second mom role and the slight sage act we’ve seen her do in her sleep for the better part of two decades.  She gets a half of a hospital scene to remind us of her chops, but that scene and her presence is of little consequence when it should mean more.

The leading excuse for all above is probably the source.  That would be director William H. Macy. The prolific and outspoken Shameless star and former Oscar nominee is normally a Hollywood treasure.  The two-time SAG winner is a respected peer in his profession. With Krystal, he has pulled his aforementioned friends and colleagues into cinematic quicksand.  Macy calls his own number as Taylor’s secret-hiding theologian father opposite his real-life wife Felicity Huffman.  Both play their roles of privilege with little to do but fluster and fret over the poor choices of their spouse or sons.  Mark them both down as two more accomplished actors who are better than this material, even with Macy steering this himself.

Macy pulled this script of gum off the bottom of his shoe.  This unfeeling farce of happenstance and mismatched oddities was written by Will Aldis, a guy with three straight-to-video credits, is nonsensical with its tonal swings.  The weirdest ingredient of all is a reoccurring satanic spectre, portrayed by bit player George Faughnan. His symbolic appearances are meant to be funny diversions and distractions, but they feel like they’re from a completely different movie than a southern-friend coming-of-age story, no matter how much marijuana is puffed.  A close second to Faughnan goes to former NBA star Rick Rox’s overplayed motivational softy posing as a tough biker, yet another caricature that goes nowhere.

Following his other 2017 effort, the sex comedy bomb of The Layover, William H. Macy is better than Krystal, as proven by his own distinguished acting resume and 2014 directorial debut and festival favorite Rudderless.  Try as he may with a committed and showy lead performance, Johnson’s charisma can’t save this film.  Dawson can be a luminous-yet-tough love interest, but the believability gap is too wide and the hijinks are too aimless.  Both roles should be meaty and substantial. However, the trouble is the two of them are saddled with one of the least believable love stories in a while that can only generate weak chemistry for the stars at best.  Robinson and Dawson are better than this. Little to nothing about Krystal works and it’s a shame considering the talent involved.   

LESSON #1: DON’T LIE TO THE WOMAN YOU’RE TRYING TO IMPRESS-- No matter how you measure it or slice it, this is a phase of dumb young love filling Taylor’s head and heart.  With this lesson, he’s falling for the most basic mistake in the book. As cordial as he carries himself, Taylor’s obvious immaturity seems to have no end, leading to all kinds of mishaps built on lying about his stature in many different areas.  

LESSON #2: DON’T CONSIDER A RELATIONSHIP WITH SOMEONE YOUNG ENOUGH TO BE YOUR KID-- Taylor, with this fawning act, is 18-years-old.  Any grown woman, especially Krystal, someone characterized as coming from a rough lifestyle of being abused and screwed over time and again should see right through Taylor.  The first flirtation should be met with “aw, nice crush, kid” and a prudent dismissal to let him down easy. But no, Krystal won’t allow such a clear decision, setting up the nonsense.

LESSON #3: LOVE CURES STUFF-- Just when I thought “laughter was the best medicine,” here comes falling in love as an asinine means of curing debilitating heart conditions that doctors have never seemed to correct.  Didn’t this movie establish from the get-go that a fluttering heart for this kid is not what he needs? Contrivances like that aren’t cute in this picture.