Don’t let Mercy‘s title fool you, as there’s no clemency here, from cliché or pretentiousness. Written by star Scott Caan according to a cornball formula, Patrick Hoelck’s indie charts the maturation of Johnny (Caan), a novelist who writes about love but personally prefers meaningless one-night stands, a contradiction that more than one person points out via the type of leadenly explicit dialogue that fills every character’s mouth. Despite telegraphing its story’s moves so thoroughly and from so early on that watching it becomes pointless, the film nonetheless proceeds to go through its mundane motions, having Johnny meet a fetching literary critic named Mercy (Wendy Glenn) who slams his latest book for being the work of a man who’s had “no actual life experience.” Since the film’s intro shows Johnny proposing to Mercy, it’s no surprise that they’re destined for romance, nor is it that their relationship—and its inevitably tragic end—will help him acquire said experience.
Mercy attempts to breathe life into its chosen conventions by chopping up its narrative so that, even once we see Johnny suffering through the miserable aftermath of their union’s end, the cause of their affair’s termination remains unknown, the better to lend a trace of suspense and mystery to a tale lacking both. Hoelek’s direction is slick but prone to anvil-subtle metaphors, culminating in a final image of night turning to dawn (get it?). Caan’s script, meanwhile, affords not only him but co-stars Troy Garity (as Johnny’s best friend), Erika Christiansen (as a woman with whom Johnny’s set up), and real-life father James Caan (as Johnny’s “love doesn’t exist” daddy dearest) with drawn-out speeches and banter, a generosity sabotaged by the lifelessness of these scenarios and their oh-so-convenient revelations. By the time a bearded Caan is seen smashing his head into a mirror and pummeling the air with enraged grief à la Jake LaMotta, the film has devolved into a morass of phony dramatics, its supposed argument about the importance of taking amorous risks (regardless of the potentially painful consequences) refuted by its use of Mercy herself as merely a plot-device vehicle for its protagonist’s emotional awakening.