The meta-narrative leanings of Ryan Phillippe’s directorial debut, Catch Hell, almost predictably give way to self-congratulation. Phillippe stars as Reagan Pearce, an actor in a career tailspin who travels to Shreveport, Louisiana to begin production on a new film that may boost his popularity. Pearce is subsequently kidnapped after thinking he’s being driven to the set by two backwoods hillbillies, and watches helplessly as the two kidnappers, one of whom is the jealous and obsessed husband of one of Pearce’s one-night stands, offensively dismantle the actor’s reputation through social media. The scenario allows for Phillippe to indulge in a self-deprecating brand of satire, but he can’t work up enough courage to ever make Pearce—and, by extension, himself—the brunt of any of the film’s barbs. His only concern is with how the story’s outcome facilitates Pearce’s clambering comeback to the Hollywood forefront.
Phillippe balances a patient and deliberate pace in constructing certain scenes with abrasively succinct montages tinged with a gonzo weirdness. These moments, sans the wooden line readings of expository dialogue that otherwise litter the film, are effective, and amusing, illuminations of personality, such as the loneliness of one of the kidnappers, Junior (Stephen Louis Grush), that’s revealed during bizarre drug-fueled dances in the swamp where he and his cohort keep Pearce. But these are mere blips of inspiration in a film that’s otherwise dully fixated with its characters only insofar as they regard Pearce’s celebrity status. Phillippe never digs into Pearce as a person, or ponders the solitary nature of the actor’s lifestyle, and the effect, which lasts right up until the inevitable and self-serving conclusion in which Pearce’s career is resuscitated in the wake of all the media coverage surrounding his disappearance, is that he’s kept at a distance from the audience. If everyone in Pearce’s world is a starfucker, then he remains only as complex as what a tabloid would tell us of a celebrity’s persona.