To the materialistic citizens of 1980s Los Angeles depicted in Tristan Patterson’s Electric Slide, appearances are everything—especially to lowlife furniture salesman Eddie Dodson (Jim Sturgess). The man walks with a swagger that gives no indication of his unglamorous trade, but points to his notoriety as a cheapskate with debts to violent loan sharks. With gangster Roy Fortune (Christopher Lambert) threatening to kill him unless he pays him back, Dodson subsequently becomes a sveltely dressed serial bank robber with his girlfriend, Pauline (Isabel Lucas); naturally, the money he steals is instead used to keep up their hedonistic lifestyle. Patterson takes major liberties in retelling Dodson’s true-life bank-robbing spree, using an intoxicating visual and aural style to suggest the thrill of law-breaking behavior. The filmmaker seems to share his characters’ ethos on the importance of keeping a confident, distinctive appearance—and, also like them, the film’s exterior flash can’t conceal a glaring emptiness.
With his version of Dodson, Patterson briefly touches on how we essentially take on different identities and characteristics when presenting ourselves to any one person. To Pauline, as well as to the various other women in his life, Dodson is suave and seemingly incapable of a false move; to Roy Fortune and his cronies, he’s a sniveling punching bag constantly begging for mercy (which makes a welcome contradiction to Patterson’s occasional, and dubious, hero worship of Dodson). But whatever psychological inquiry Patterson approaches is lost when he fails to even provide a hint of why the largely uncharismatic Dodson inexplicably has such imposing influence over others, particularly women. Despite juggling multiple lovers at one time, the only moments Dodson exudes even a fraction of his ostensibly effortless charm is when he’s robbing a bank from the always-attractive teller, which Patterson shoots like awkward first dates. The intended twist on courtship rituals is overshadowed by the various bank tellers’ long hesitation or outright refusal to alert authorities, which implies that, if the criminal is attractive and impeccably dressed, a well-meaning person is shallow enough to actually compromise their job and morals to personally please them.
The major characters orbiting Dodson aren’t as egregiously written, though they are mostly tepid crime-film archetypes, like Lambert’s snarky sadist of a mob boss and Lucas’s narcotizing, barely defined girlfriend. Instead of distinguishing them from genre tropes, or tying them to a thematic principle, Patterson has extended scenes of his characters either admiring each other or listening to cassette tapes, usually done in lush slow motion, and passing the implied mutual attraction and taste in music off as a form of development. In that they’re partly a way of showing off Patterson’s immaculate and glittering style, yet are ultimately lifeless and hollow, the characters come off as mannequins in a storefront—which is an apt comparison, since that’s precisely what Dodson tells two beautiful models in the film to be like as he photographs them outside his furniture store.