Director Michael D. Olmos goes for the jugular in Splinter. His story, co-scripted by Adrian A. Cruz and Enrique Almeida, is a stylized yet graphic and violent cops-vs.-gangbangers drama, highlighted by the explosive Tom Sizemore.
Following a neat anime title sequence, Splinter tells the tale of a gang member, Dreamer (Almeida), who witnessed his brother’s murder but has lost his memory of the event and is now seeking revenge. Dreamer enlists his surviving brother, Dusty (Noel Gugliemi), to help him navigate the dangerous back alleys of Los Angeles to find the killer.
The brothers are most suspicious of Detective Cunningham (Sizemore), a middle-aged cop with a history of violence. Meanwhile, Cunningham breaks in a rookie detective, Gramm (Resmine Atis), who has been assigned by her commander (Edward James Olmos, the director’s father) to keep tabs on her new partner.
As the four main characters hunt for answers—and for one another—someone continues to sadistically kill gang members. After considerable carnage, the surprise culprit is discovered, which leads to a bloodbath.
The dreamlike (or more correctly, nightmarish) look of Splinter resembles two other films produced by Dark Horse Indie, Hellboy and Sin City, but the subject matter this time is less befitting a noir cartoon. Director Olmos bathes the entire film in muted colors and expressionist lighting. The results are simultaneously slick and raw: arty melodrama mixed with depressing kitchen-sink realism.
Some will greatly appreciate this revisionism of the James M. Cain or James Ellroy-type detective novel. Others may recoil from the jolts of bloody and sadistic killing and torture, which is more in keeping with Stephen King or a modern-day horror pic (e.g., Hostel). And viewers may be equally divided (or just confused) by the “dream” flashes that implicate various characters (even the heroine) as the killer.
But Sizemore’s edgy, high-charged performance blasts through Splinter’s aesthetic pretensions (including a lot of time-lapse cloud photography). Whether or not one knows about the actor’s real-life travails (including his recent prison sentencing), Sizemore takes over the screen with an unpredictable and chilling portrayal. Understandably, the other actors cannot compete with his ferocity and most don’t even try. (Atis gives a Noh-like performance as the rookie cop, and a few supporting players might as well be appearing on an episode of “CSI: Miami.”)
Those who like their grit served in fancy packaging will like Splinter, though no one will confuse it for the feel-good movie of the summer.