Cinema Review: The American Side | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023  

The American Side

Studio: The Orchard
Directed by Jenna Ricker

Apr 29, 2016 Web Exclusive
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Charlie Paczynski (Greg Stuhr) is a chain-smoking, bottom-dollar private investigator based in Buffalo, NY, who specializes in snapping photos of cheating spouses. When Charlie witnesses a murder while on the job one night, he finds himself mysteriously and unavoidably thrust into the middle of a befuddling conspiracy and cover up, which involves more murder, mystery, and Nikola Tesla than Charlie ever fathomed.

Directed by Jenna Ricker, who co-wrote the script with Stuhr, The American Side is a throwback noir populated by duplicitous damsels and grizzled gumshoes. With a MacGuffin that skews toward science fiction—designs for a super weapon postulated by inventor genius Tesla—The American Side could well earn its stripes as a unique whodunit the likes of which are not often rendered on film anymore. However, Ricker and Stuhr’s story is overly complicated and burdened by a gratuitous assortment of characters whose collective raison d’etre is sorely lacking. The script twists and contorts itself in an admirable attempt to achieve complexity, but the effort proves deleterious, rendering the film and its plot muddled and taxed. Worse, the film becomes a chore to watch, let alone to follow. Ricker and Stuhr employ too many off screen deaths for their own good, muddying the viewing experience with expectations that deceased characters return, given their previously substantial roles and lack of visual confirmation of their deaths. Instead, these characters are replaced by new faces, whose purpose is equally debatable. (Matthew Broderick and Janeane Garofalo both have small roles, though the latter’s in particular retains an inorganic feel.)

Noir is hard. There’s no debating that. Equally difficult to realize in an exciting way is a hypothetical scientific idea. Incorporating Tesla’s designs into a noir is a doubly fraught endeavor. Had it worked, The American Side would have pulled off a jaw-dropping feat, especially under the guidance of sophomore director, Ricker. As it stands, though, the film loses its power of engagement early on and fails to regain its footing, despite many worthy tries.

Author rating: 4/10

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