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Jesus' Son

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In a strain for visceral effect, it's become a common cliché among literal-minded heroin movies that rather than merely showing addicts shooting up, it's better to find some sort of visual equivalent to their trippy hallucinatory rush. For its part, Jesus' Son features anthropomorphic cotton balls and a naked suburbanite flying overhead in a harness, images all but interchangeable with the diapered infant crawling across the ceiling in Trainspotting or the consumptive green Alf monster in Permanent Midnight. Adapted from Denis Johnson's loosely connected book of short stories, the film adds up to little more than the sum of its disjointed, fitfully inspired parts. A largely plotless slice-of-life about a cadre of Middle American heroin addicts in the early '70s, it centers on the charismatic Billy Crudup, a ne'er-do-well known only as "F.H." ("Fuckhead") for reasons that soon become obvious. Virtually reprising her exceptional performance as a single woman hell-bent on self-degradation in Under The Skin, Samantha Morton plays Crudup's strung-out and pregnant girlfriend with a possessed, nervy intensity that brightens her scattered scenes. Better still is a hilarious turn by Jack Black (of Tenacious D), whose pill-popping disorderly orderly carries the film's only wholly successful vignette, in which he tends to a patient who has a hunting knife lodged in his eye. Denis Leary, Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper, and Will Patton all turn in extended cameo appearances, but like much of Jesus' Son, they're not sustained long enough to make much of an impression. Director Alison Maclean (Crush) has a vibrant sense of period detail—and the good taste to slip in snatches of Neil Young's "Cowgirl In The Sand"—but her attempts at elliptical editing and split-screen effects smack of desperation. If anything, the film's flashy, tricked-up style makes the material seem all the more drearily commonplace.