Posted: 03/09/2008

 

Dead Cool

(2004)

by Jef Burnham




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The cover art for Dead Cool is confusing and misleading to say the least. Depicting a boy in a dog house in front of Big Ben with Rosanna Arquette hovering over him, the tagline reads, “They don’t stand a GHOST of a chance.” Despite the mess of a film this could lead a person to envision, it is not that bad, though it can often be terribly uneven.

The film opens by obnoxiously blasting the viewer with music hardly suited to the sentimental title sequence, followed by a scene in which the main character, David (Steven Geller), narrates his own circumcision—a tad reminiscent Look Who’s Talking. David’s father later dies after predictably being hit by a bus, after which the boy is periodically haunted by the ghost of his father, though it is never clear whether or not his father is on leave from Heaven or the boy is imagining it. Seven years later, David’s mother meets Mark (a failed television personality played by Anthony Calf of Pride and Prejudice) and the film becomes the standard depiction of two dysfunctional families joining under one roof.

James Callis (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Battlestar Galactica) as David’s corporeally-challenged father is very cool (and dead as the title would indicate), and Rosanna Arquette holds her own among the otherwise British cast as a self-help guru for stepfamilies, as well as being Mark’s ex-wife, Deirdre. However, it’s never thoroughly explained that we are often viewing clips from the film version of Deirdre’s book, The Stepfamily’s Bible, and one of the storylines involving her character is started a bit late in the film to play out properly.

The film’s major flaw, aside from using the tired “I’m king of the world” routine from Titanic, is that there are really too many plot points to be wrapped up comfortably in 99 minutes. This leaves the audience to sort out a lot of pieces that should have been handled by the filmmakers, including whether or not certain scenes are intended to be viewed as fantasy. And I don’t think the reality of the film is meant to be ambiguous, as with Pan’s Labyrinth. Perhaps these unfocused transitions are meant to emulate the way a teenager’s mind works, but that seems to be clutching at straws.

Jef Burnham is a freelance writer and film critic living in Chicago.



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