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March 09, 2012

Movies You Missed 29: Columbus Circle

Columbus-circleThis week in movies you missed: Having one of the swankiest addresses on the planet will not protect you from ... evil!

What You Missed

When an old lady falls to her death in her luxurious penthouse on NYC's Columbus Circle, cop Giovanni Ribisi investigates. His suspicions are aroused by the victim's next-door neighbor, an attractive agoraphobe named Abigail (Selma Blair), who hasn't left her apartment in years.

Sure enough, we learn, Abigail has a past she'd like very much to hide. But when a couple moves into the deceased woman's apartment, she finds herself all too exposed. Boorish Charlie (Jason Lee) has a tendency to beat on his trophy girlfriend, Lillian (Amy Smart), reminding Abigail of traumatic events in her own past. As she and Lillian form a friendship, Abigail is tempted to leave her safe nest and take action.

She has no inkling of the web of deception she's caught in, which also involves her one confidant (Beau Bridges) and her doorman, played by veteran character actor Kevin Pollak, who also coscripted the film with director George Gallo.

Why You Missed It

Straight to DVD.

Should You Keep Missing It?

I was going to start this review with a paragraph about the strange career of Selma Blair, who looks like your standard pretty actress but never seems to appear on film as anything but a freak, a weirdo, a monster, a shallow or uptight caricature, or someone who gets horribly deceived, humiliated or abused. It's gotten to the point where if I see her on screen, I cringe, because I know something awful's going to happen to her (see among others: Cruel Intentions, The Sweetest Thing, Storytelling).

I was going to say this long-suffering actress deserves a star vehicle that makes the most of her odd qualities, and, sadly, Columbus Circle is not it.

But then I found out more about Columbus Circle. Here's what Kevin Pollak had to say to the AV Club about how the film came about:

Chris [Mallick, the producer] was telling us about this movie he was about to start back in Los Angeles … He’d lost the rights to it. So suddenly he was three weeks away from shooting a movie that he’d spent over a million dollars on, building these two big beautiful New York high-rise apartment sets on a soundstage, and now he had no movie. This is the night before we’re gonna fly home from Cannes, and I said, “Don’t worry about it, Chris, I’ll come up with a new movie, and you can start shooting in three weeks.” And he laughed and said, “Of course you will. Thank you.” I said, “No, I’m serious..."

Pollak pitched his story involving two luxury high-rise apartments the next morning. He and Gallo hammered out the details on their flight home from Cannes and started shooting Columbus Circle 19 days later.

In short, the movie wasn't conceived as a vehicle for Blair, or anyone. It was a last-minute gambit to recoup the million already spent on sets for another movie. And that's exactly how Columbus Circle plays — like a thriller somebody threw together in a couple of days without thinking it through.

The initial scenes have promise. Gallo starts off shooting Blair from Ribisi's perspective, in the half-dark, so she seems glamorous and sinister like a Hitchcock heroine. But then the script shifts to Abigail's perspective, the "Did she kill her neighbor?" possibility is discarded, and the clumsy exposition starts. (We learn about Abigail's past from a TV tabloid show she's watching.) After that, plot twists come thick and fast, some of them far from motivated or believable. Meanwhile, the film skips from one POV to the next like a carelessly written novel, killing the suspense.

Hitchcock would have known how important it was to stay inside the mind of the heroine, who's trapped in her memories and fears as surely as she is in her apartment. Speaking of Hitchcock, Gallo attempts to channel his style in certain scenes, but he dials the Breathless Suspense meter so high that they come off more like campy excerpts from a Lifetime movie.

Come to think, Lifetime would be a good final home for Columbus Circle.

Verdict: It could be worse for a movie that was less than three weeks from conception to execution. The sets are drool-worthy real-estate porn, so that was money well spent, I suppose, sort of. For the fine performers involved, though, this isn't a CV entry to be proud of. Blair's breakthrough will have to wait.

Other New DVD Releases You May Have Missed

  • "Above Suspicion," set 1 (British crime drama from the creator of "Prime Suspect")
  • "Game of Thrones," season 1 (Finally, the acclaimed fantasy series is available to the HBO impaired.)
  • High Road (improvised comedy from a bunch of familiar faces, including Abby Elliott, Horatio Sanz and Lizzy Caplan)
  • How to Die in Oregon (Sundance-winning doc about right-to-die legislation, a hot topic in Vermont right now)
  • I Am (The director of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective goes on a voyage of self-discovery to find out what it all means. Rick Kisonak gave it a thumbs up; click for review.)
  • Senna (doc about the race-car driver)
  • The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almódovar's latest is not for the squeamish, but I liked it; click for review.)
  • Urbanized (doc about urban design from Gary Hustwit)

Each week I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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