The aptly named “Answers to Nothing” made its appearance on the big screen, presumably at the art houses, early last December before fading into a well deserved obscurity shortly thereafter. Available on DVD and currently showing on HBO, it is a film that dares you to like it in spite of its many glaring flaws.
What’s right about the movie is most of the acting, and, oddly enough, the accelerated ending(s) with all their constant juxtapositions, much of it set to the great hard rocking sounds of Aja Volkman leading Nico Vega. What’s wrong is nearly everything else, especially the script.
Biting off so much more that ever they could chew, director Leutwyler and fellow script writer Gillian Vigman conceived one of those multi intertwining story films that are often more suitable to comedic outings than dramatic, whose characters, in this case, fall squarely into two categories, which proves to be one too many. Half the cast is (or will be) in some way involved with the disappearance of a young girl. This includes the miscast Julie Benz (what cop in her right mind would have hair half way down her back) as the detective investigating the crime, hampered by the directives of her boss, the too recognizable Tony Denison (Detective Flynn from “The Closer”;) a rookie policeman; his neighbor, a grade school teacher who plays heroic video role playing games by night; the main suspect; and the girl’s father, who likes collecting young girl porn. The rest of the cast is vaguely interconnected by their relationship to a psychiatrist (Dane Cook,) and his lawyer wife (Elizabeth Mitchell.) The wife is a friend of the Benz character, which, believe it or not, is the tenuous connection of half the cast with the rest of the film.
While many of these ongoing character vignettes occasionally hold one’s interest, they are ultimately distracting from any sense of wholeness and since half of them have nothing whatsoever to do with the mystery at the core of the film, they need to be infinitely more compelling than they are to justify their presence here.
The way too many subplots include a recovering alcoholic fighting to maintain custody of her “brain dead” brother while preparing to run a marathon; the shrink and the mouthpiece going through the many faceted hell of intrauterine insemination; the shrink’s extra marital affair with a rock singer; the rock singer’s need to overcome her role as a collection of holes for the shrink; the mystery of why the rookie cop attends funerals of people he obviously doesn’t know; the shrink’s crazy mother (Barbara Hershey) who won’t accept the reality that her husband traded her for a newer model nine years ago and isn’t coming back; and a slightly African American who “hates black people,” the shrink’s only patient in the film who winds up loosely connected to the rock singer through a relationship with the soundman at the club where the band plays.
There are really two films here, one about the Dane Cook character and his circle of kooky family & friends, and one about the abduction of the little girl and its strange resolution. The first one is marginally interesting at times. The second is haunting at times. OK, writers, what does that tell you needs to happen to the script in a major overhaul?
The first half of the film could be patented as a cure for insomnia, as we meet the sprawling cast, are introduced and reintroduced to the abduction mystery and all of life’s distractions from its conclusion. The second half is a bit tighter, and really gets into gear as secret after secret is revealed concerning these folks we thought we knew, the solution to the mystery is reached, and the assorted resolutions to the various character’s immediate problems are stacked like cookies on a plate.
Truth be told, several of the characters, including the shrink, his mother and his patient are almost painfully boring. It is a testament to the actors that they can inhabit these self absorbed people and make them real, although such a skill might be better served as an exercise in acting school and not as part of a feature film.
As two hours of entertainment the film is a flop. As a lesson in writing excesses and miscasting that can mire an otherwise compelling police procedural/mystery, it is worth a look.