PRETTY BIRD (2008)
Starring Billy Crudup, Paul Giamatti, David Hornsby, Anna Camp, Kristen Wiig, Garret Dillahunt, Denis O’Hare, Elizabeth Marvel and Lennon Parham.
Screenplay by Paul Schneider.
Directed by Paul Schneider.
Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 120 minutes. Rated R.
Perhaps Law & Order is to blame. Since the debut of that venerable TV series (which was just been cancelled after 20 seasons), the idea of “ripped from the headlines” storytelling – doing fictional variations on real news stories – has been fair game.
In its opening scrawl, Pretty Bird refers to itself as a fictional film inspired by real events.
How much of this story is true and how much is just made up for dramatic effect is murky. In fact, as someone who is coming into this story with no real knowledge of the true facts, I have to admit being a little confused as to why the makers of Pretty Bird felt the need to tell this particular story.
It is supposed to be a darkly comic look at American ingenuity and invention, and on that level, it does succeed, I suppose.
I just wish I cared more.
However, I know exactly why Pretty Bird did not move me at all. The problem is the two main characters.
Pretty Bird tells the story of a fast-talking idea man who bilks a good-natured friend to finance the hiring of a down-on-his-luck scientist to create and market one of those jet packs that you occasionally see at the circus and in old movies.
As an invention, these packs have always been found much too expensive and hard to create and upkeep to be financially viable – which is why major corporations and the military all eventually washed their hands of the machines.
However, here a borderline marketing/conman named Curtis Prentiss (Billy Crudup, doing his best with an insipid character) sees the jet pack as the ultimate get-rich-quick scheme. He tricks his best friend (David Hornsby) into financing the creation and experimentation of the gizmo. They hire a bitter unemployed aerospace engineer named Rick Honeycutt (Paul Giamatti) to build the machine.
The biggest problem with the movie is simply this: the two main characters are just so unlikable that it is nearly impossible to build up any kind of rooting interest in anything which goes on here. Curtis is a shallow, scheming, vapid ass-kisser. Rick is a sour, mean, borderline sociopath.
Call me crazy, but I don’t particularly want to see either of these guys have their dream of wealth and power come true.
I mean, I get it, this is a black comedy, but still, it seems like the main characters of a film should have some redeeming characteristics, right?
Pretty Bird is a very jaundiced look at the American dream. However, just because it may be at least partially true does not make it any easier to sit through.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 1, 2010.