Proving that Hollywood doesn’t have a monopoly on ponderous, ersatz-thoughtful war dramas, Day Zero envisions a near-future America where the draft has been reinstituted. This is bad news for married lawyer Rifkin (Chris Klein), author Feller (Elijah Wood), and cab driver Dixon (Jon Bernthal), three childhood friends in NYC who all receive draft cards at the same time, but it’s an even worse situation for viewers, since Bryan Gunnar Cole’s low-fi indie is an indulgently paranoid “what if” daydream for straight men—no gays are allowed to be drafted, per the story—expanded to 96 didactic minutes. Rifkin, Feller, and Dixon conveniently represent three positions (anti-war, undecided, and pro-war) along the ideological spectrum, and Cole complicates these characterizations in equally convenient and dreary ways, having fight-loving Dixon’s sense of obligation waver in the face of new love, and serial-coward Rifkin’s attempts to avoid service fall flat. Will they or won’t they, teases the film, but the more pressing question is “Who cares?,” given that it merely deals in stock arguments from one-dimensional characters about an ill-defined conflict (references to Iran, Iraq, and Egypt keep things oblique and, thus, toothless). Day Zero‘s cast doesn’t do it any favors, with Klein exhibiting his usual bland woodenness and Bernthal unable to distract attention away from the schematic corniness of Dixon’s circumstances, which involve not only a blossoming romance but also a young girl in his apartment building who looks to him for parental support. Neither is as embarrassingly inauthentic as Wood, who’s eventually called upon to do some Travis Bickle posturing in the mirror with a bald, tattooed head. Yet ultimately, all three actors are far less responsible for the film’s failings than Rob Malkani’s predictably unpredictable, painfully preachy script, which trades in an amateurish, unsightly brand of ambiguity that finds its perfect visual complement in Matthew Clark’s murky DV cinematography.
- First Look International
- 96 min
- Bryan Gunnar Cole
- Robert Malkani
- Elijah Wood, Jon Bernthal, Chris Klein, Ginnifer Goodwin, Elisabeth Moss, Ally Sheedy, Sofia Vassilieva, John Rothman
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