A nervous bank teller is asked to identify the man who robbed her. She looks directly at him in a police lineup but doesn't see him. The man who robbed me, she says, looked like he had just stepped down from a movie screen.
This is the moment that probably attracted director/writer Tristan Patterson to the allegedly true story of Eddie Dodson, a Los Angeles furniture salesman who pulled off more than 60 bank robberies in 1983. Though he never made any major scores, he developed a reputation for the compliments he'd pay to the women he robbed. "Nice earrings," he'd say. Or, "Nice sweater." Sometimes he'd tell them they looked like Jackie Bissett. He was in the long tradition of 'gentleman bandits' who have fascinated us since the days of the Old West. That he tended to wear dark glasses and a red flower in his lapel added to his mystique. At heart, though, Dodson was a small timer. He owed money everywhere. That this little doufus eluded the LA police for so long was something short of a miracle, and just the sort of thing that appeals to moviemakers.
The problem with Electric Slide, a new film that purportedly tells Dodson's story, is that it doesn't dig very deep. The movie is content to show Eddie strutting around in a powder blue suit, occasionally groveling when he can't pay his debts, and as played by Jim Sturgess, drawling like Matthew McConaughey. I half-expected him to say 'Alright, alright, alright.' With his catfish whiskers and his slight physique, Sturgess cuts an interesting figure, but there's not much to him. Where's he from? Why is he so deeply in debt? We never find out.
The movie starts with Dodson watching the cheesy Richard Gere version of 'Breathless', and then hooking up with the mysterious Pauline (Isabel Lucas, looking like an emaciated Michelle Pfeiffer). She's a little neurotic, but as one might say about an unusual pet, she doesn't make much noise and doesn't eat much. He includes her in his bank jobs; she falls asleep in the getaway car. Gradually, the robberies become more risky, and the cops start closing in. When the cops finally catch up to him, Dodson fantasizes about being blown away. That it takes more than 30 cops to bring him in must have given him some sense of satisfaction, but it's hard to say. The last time we see Pauline, she's on a city bus, hustling a stranger for 20 bucks. It's all supposed to be tres bleak and existential, I guess.
Chloë Sevigny and Patricia Arquette are wasted in small roles. Patterson pumps the soundtrack with some Iggy Pop and Nick Lowe songs from the early 1980s, plus a lot of 1980s droning, which only draws attention to the thinness of that era's music. Patterson also uses the old Godard trick of numbering the scenes of his movie. When it reached "5", I breathed a sigh of relief knowing the thing was half-over. Patterson has some style, and is obviously a lover of cinema, but at this point in his young career he is more interested in mood and atmosphere than anything resembling human emotion. If he ever develops an interest in people to go along with his interest in images, he'll make a good movie someday.
Then again, some directors never grow. Larry Clark, for instance, is still making the same movie he was making 20 yeas ago. When I heard that Marfa Girl, a 2012 Clark feature was finally being released on VOD and in select theaters, I figured there'd be some skateboarders, some filthy kids having sex, some dangling male genitalia, and some unexpected violence. True enough, the first thing we see in the movie is a skateboard. After 20 minutes of Marfa Girl, you'll get the impression that Clark welded some bits and pieces from his other movies together, all in the hopes of hitting his favorite theme: ignorant teens humping in squalor.
The setting is new - the Tex-Mex border - and Clark throws in an ultra crazy border patrol guard (Jeremy St. James) to harass the kids, but the plot is predictable and most of the dialog is amateurish. Each character is given a chance to stop in the middle of the movie to offer some mundane bit of philosophy, or talk about some terrible event from their past. These scenes are clumsy, like what you'd hear in a beginner playwriting class. Babies are everywhere, too, crawling through every scene, while characters sleepily walk around them or over them. Children, the message seems to be, are just an unfortunate byproduct of all the screwing we have to do. There's also some painful gibberish about spirits, as if Clark had recently read a book on the subject and felt compelled to add it to his screenplay. It all adds up to nothing.
Give Clark credit for sticking to his fetishes. He still likes to focus his camera on hairy male asses, and he never tires of having characters engage in sexually explicit dialog. Of course, some people get a rise out of Clark's moviemaking. Marfa Girl won a prize at the Rome film festival, and was praised in Variety for being "vintage Clark." To some, it's vintage. To others, it's the same old shit.