Starring: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman
Rated R for Language and Drug Content
There is potential in "Tape," but it is mostly unrealized. I have nothing against talky scripts, but that would imply that the characters have something interesting to say. "Tape" is occasionally compelling but just as often dull.
Vince (Hawke) and John (Leonard) are old friends from high school. While John has grown up to become a small-time filmmaker, Vince is stuck in a state of arrested development and working as a volunteer firefighter while supplementing his income by selling drugs. They're both in Michigan to see John's new film at the Lansing Film Festival. Initially, their meeting is jovial, but Vince, who is drunk and high, soon steers the conversation to a girl from their past: Amy (Thurman). Vince and Amy dated throughout high school, but she dumped him her senior year. Shortly thereafter, John slept with her. The question is, was it rape? As they argue, Amy shows up.
The film is on solid ground when the characters are discussing what happened. Unfortunately, that takes up about 75% of the running time. The rest of the film is devoted to unsuccessful character building and rat-a-tat dialogue that films lifted directly from plays often have. I think the intent is to imitate David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin's "A Few Good Men," but the dialogue is dull and repetitive rather than brilliant. I don't know about you, but if a character says they don't know what someone is talking about, I don't need to hear it another three or four times before I get it.
Of course, it helps that the film stars Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman. All three are underrated actors, and are more than willing to work hard for table scraps (the film was shot for a mere $100,000). Ethan Hawke frequently plays low-key everymen, but here he plays a drugged up, almost manic, jerk nursing some old grudges. Robert Sean Leonard, best known for playing Dr. James Wilson on "House" (an overrated show if you ask me), is also strong as John. John would rather let the past be the past, but when faced with the truth (or what could be the truth), he owns up to it. Then Uma Thurman shows up, and repeatedly surprises everyone with her recollection of the events in question, and what she does after.
Ultimately "Tape" suffers from a rather common problem: too little material to sustain its running length. And for a 90 minute movie, that's really all that needs to be said.