Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Powder Blue

Powder Blue attained some early notoriety as the sexy Jessica Biel stripper movie that got Tinseltown tongues a-wagging with news that the scantily clad super-starlet would be revealing slightly more flesh than usual. Alas, an abundance of press attention and copious Biel nudity are just about the only things setting Powder Blue apart from a tidal wave of glum indie ensemble dramas about alienated misfits searching desperately for connection, truth, and meaning in a cityscape of lost souls.

Advertisement

Biel leads a star-studded ensemble as a coke-addled stripper whose existence gets even grimmer when she loses her beloved dog just before an unseasonably cold L.A. Christmas. Eddie Redmayne plays an asthmatic mortician/puppeteer who finds Biel’s dog and begins a tentative romance with its owner. Forest Whitaker helps round out the circle of grief as a former priest who left the church to marry Sanaa Lathan, only to lose her in a wedding-day car crash that sent him into a suicidal downward spiral. Ray Liotta, meanwhile, plays a mysterious man with a mysterious, endlessly telegraphed secret who shows up at the strip club where Biel works for scumbag Patrick Swayze (with a soul patch and a deeply unflattering bleached-blonde hair-metal Wrestler ’do) and mesmerizes Biel with his strangely familiar blue eyes, even though he’s old enough to be her father. (Hint, hint.)

Writer-director Timothy Linh Bui keeps ratcheting up the melodrama to ridiculously portentous heights. It isn’t enough to cast a wildly overmatched Biel as a mournful stripper with a coke problem; no, she also has to have a lost dog, a son in a coma, and a mortally ill ex-con father whom she thinks is dead, but who is eager to make amends and now has the money to do so. Powder Blue seems stitched together, patchwork-style, from bits and pieces of superior films. It echoes Crash in its “We’re all in this together” pseudo-profundity, and Magnolia in its downbeat exploration of free-floating L.A. ennui and freak climactic precipitation. A dour aggregation of indie quirks and unnecessary subplots, Powder Blue shoots for art, but dead-ends at gloomy smut. It’s destined for a long, early-morning run on pay cable: The arthouse’s loss is Cinemax’s gain.

Key features: A fawning making-of featurette and an audio commentary by the writer-director.