The Curve (1998)
Directed by Dan Rosen
Cast: Matthew Lillard, Michael Vartan, Randall Batinkoff, Keri Russell, Tamara Craig Thomas, Anthony Griffith, Bo Dietl, Dana Delany.
1998 91 minutes
Rated: (for profanity, sexual situations, and a suicide).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 13, 1999.
There's a long, unfortunate story behind "The Curve." Originally titled "Dead Man's Curve," the film premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, was eventually picked up by Trimark Pictures, and the director, Dan Rosen, was promised a theatrical release. Time ticked by, its name was changed, and it finally ended up bypassing theaters for home video in March, 1999. But there's still one more catch: even on video, it is only available at Blockbuster (which is where, of course, I rented it), although the DVD is available everywhere. Sound strange? I thought so too.
"The Curve" is an inauspicious thriller set at a Maryland college that, like 1998's dumb comedy, "Dead Man on Campus," takes off from the urban legend that if your roommate commits suicide, you automatically receive a 4.0 GPA for the semester. Tim (Matthew Lillard) and Chris (Michael Vartan) despise their roommate, Rand (Randall Batinkoff), both for his cruel attitude and emotionally abusive way he treats his girlfriend, Natalie (Tamara Craig Thomas), who has just discovered she is pregnant. When Rand finds out about his oncoming child, he explodes, giving Tim and Chris a fairly good chance to murder him and make it look like a suicide. Spiking his alcohol with rat poison, Rand, sure enough, dies, and Tim eagerly pushes him off a cliff. Although Chris does need the 4.0 since he is hoping to be accepted to Harvard, he gradually grows with guilt, and it soon becomes apparent that Tim may very well be setting him up to take all blame for the murder, even though Rand's body has yet to be found. And Chris is even more outraged when he finds Tim trying to take advantage of his girlfriend, Emma (Keri Russell).
"The Curve" is a thoroughly despicable mystery-thriller, a film that eventually gets so over-to-the-top and convoluted it quickly becomes ludicrous. It's the type of movie where you're never quite sure who the characters are, or their intentions, until the "shocking" climax. This tried-and-true plot device sometimes works ("The Usual Suspects," "Clue: The Movie"), but more often than not risks the posssibility of going so far over the deep end to completely lose its audience. That is one of the major downfalls of "The Curve." As plot twist after plot twist gathers on top of each other, up until the very end, I did not feel a sense of shock (even though I admittedly didn't see some of it coming), but instead felt simply jerked around. It's OK to want to be unpredictable and surprising, but there comes a point when the shocks stop becoming effective and turn into a great annoyance.
The characters in "The Curve" are rarely who they say they are, but some of the performances are adequate enough. Matthew Lillard doesn't do as much of his usual comedic schtick as usual, but also does not turn in nearly as impressive a performance as in "SLC Punk!" Michael Vartan ("Never Been Kissed") is the only actual character that is successfully developed beyond merely being a pawn to the plotting, and is believable as a young man who is desperate to get into Harvard, but not enough to want to turn to murder. Keri Russell (TV's "Felicity") is fine as Vartan's grilfriend, but her thought-to-be intelligent character makes a u-turn at the midway point and becomes nothing more than a floozy. Randall Batinkoff does nothing with his villainous character of Rand, but it isn't entirely his fault since the screenplay only calls for him to be a one-dimensional jerk. None of the other performances make any impression, with the only other central character, played by Tamara Craig Thomas, a passive "object" who takes the abuse from Rand and does nothing about it. Sure, there are people like this in the real world, but writer-director Dan Rosen should have written at least one of his female characters to be a strong individual.
Ultimately, "The Curve" is so concerned about its plot that it doesn't pay much attention at all to its characters, and therefore, the film only comes off feeling even more empty-headed. I enjoy a good thriller as much as the next person, but this film is ridiculous and often even inane. Rosen has made a technically pleasing independent film, with competent cinematography and a memorable music score. It's too bad his film was treated so neglectfully by its studio and sent straight-to-video, but after seeing it for myself, I honestly blame them for only one thing: picking up the film's distribution rights in the first place.
©1999 by Dustin Putman