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The Film: American Breakdown: (2008)

The Principles: Written and directed by a bunch of different people that are in the closing credits, but not listed by IMDB. The only people it credits on IMDB are David Brooks and Erik MacArthur, who I think just edited the short films into one completely terrible hodgepodge of not very good. Acted by James Gandolfini, Steven R. McQueen, Joe Mantegna, Louis Gossett Jr., Michael Rispoli, Steve Carell, Ian Gomez, Eric Stonestreet, Josh Hartnett, Scott Caan, Paul Walker, Alisen Down, Desmond Harrington, Paris Hilton and Ioan Gruffudd. 

The Premise: There…isn’t one? It’s a half dozen short films playing in a row.

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Is it good? No. No it’s not. I watched this because it was the one film on Instant that had James Gandolfini in it that I hadn’t seen before. I’m glad I watched it because he’s great in his brief role, as are a few of the other actors, but aside from a moment here and a moment there, this film is unwatchable.

The first film, Soda Water, has Gandalfini as a ghost giving advice to Steven R. McQueen (Jeremy from Vampire Diaries), a struggling actor stealing quarters from a jukebox to make ends meet. McQueen gets struck by lightning and Gandalfini plays the devil and the angel on his shoulder trying to pull him out of his spiral. It makes less sense if you watch it, I swear. The amateurish direction and absolutely godawful script (Lou Gossett Jr. calls somebody “youngblood” and it’s not cool at all), plus a wasted Joe Mantegna and Michael Rispoli make this the worst short film I’ve seen in my life…until I got to the Paris Hilton one. Hold your horses, I’m getting to it.

The second film is called Street of Pain and it’s about Steve Carell and Ian (Cougar Town) Gomez playing a vindictive game of dodgeball in what looks to be the Universal back lot. There’s some Matrix moves and a completely deadpan performance by Carell, so I guess this is the best one because of (in spite of?) that. It has a wonderfully wicked and funny little ending, but it’s only 5 minutes out of the interminable 87 minute running time.

The next one is called Member, I think? Josh Hartnett is a cab driver doing an American Whine version of the opening monologue from Trainspotting. The film is super saturated, making it almost impossible to even see what’s happening in the frame. I have to hand it to Hartnett, though. The script is so hackneyed and monotonous that it could have been unbearable if he hadn’t brought a bit of a lighter touch to it, but he underplayed this terrible short enough to make it at least possible to sit through.

Life Makes Sense If You’re Famous starts out promising with a poor guy from the midwest getting hit by a car. The driver is a famous model who is dating mega-celebrity Hayden Field (Caan) and is fully enmeshed in the Hollywood scene. The model wasn’t supposed to be driving and doesn’t want to get in trouble, so she agrees to let the poor guy pretend to be her cousin and hang out with her and all of her famous friends as long as he doesn’t say anything. It’s an interesting premise, but it literally ends right there. He’s sitting on a lounge chair by a pool and Scott Caan shows up and they talk for a second and then it ends. Paul Walker also shows up for one second and opens a car door while they’re clubbing and you never see him again. It’s weird, man. No good.

Ugh, next we have L.A. Knights, the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Paris Hilton and friends go to a club, spill some cocaine in a toilet stall and have a one-night-stand. I think it’s trying to tell us that these are strong, independent women that do what they want without apologizing for it, but they should apologize for being shitty. They all come across as vapid and shallow caricatures of what real independent women are actually like. Horrible early-90′s USA Up All Night filmmaking combined with a script that sounds like it was written in a vacuum make this an absolutely unbearable 15 minutes.

Finally we have The Little Things, a nice little character piece about suicidal people meeting and falling in love. I might have liked this more if it wasn’t sandwiched into such a terrible cash-grab of marketable names and the short films they made for favors. Ioan Gruffudd and Alisen Down do good work here, but it’s all too lightweight to matter.

I suppose the thread these films all have in common is people unhappy with their lot in life. That’s a nice sentiment, but these films aren’t good. There’s a reason we haven’t seen these before, some of which were made as far back as 2001. Paul Walker doesn’t want you to see this. Paris Hilton might.

Is it worth a look? If you’d like to see a few lovely little character moments for Gandalfini then go for it. He makes dialogue that would embarrass anyone sound powerful and somewhat profound coming out of his mouth. There’s nothing I can say about the loss of an actor I admired and looked up to that hasn’t been said better by folks here and elsewhere, but I will say one thing: He was a beautiful actor and man. Period. 

Random anecdotes: The final ten minutes of American Breakdown are closing credits.

I had pizza for dinner.

I saw a badger today.

Musical theater is better than you think it is.

Cinematic soulmates: Faces of Death 1-4, Crash, Dane Cook, fanny packs, turkey bacon, wasps, skim milk.

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She said nothing of the sort!