Film Review: Pocket Listing

Ponderous, low-budget “satirical thriller” set in the shark-infested waters of L.A. real estate wastes a serviceable story along with the talents of Rob Lowe and a few other good actors.
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Aiming for an elusive target somewhere between deadpan L.A. noir and winking genre send-up, the ill-conceived indie crime thriller Pocket Listing fires ideas in every direction but rarely connects dead-on. A teeming cast of ex-movie stars, character pros, ingénues of varying appeal, and pneumatic semi-nude extras only occasionally breathe life into director Conor Allyn’s unwieldy hodgepodge. For the most part, this tale of a hotshot real estate agent brought low by hubris and betrayal might as well be floating face-down in a Malibu infinity pool, because it’s dead on arrival.

As with many a hard-boiled crime story, the scene is first set by a sardonic narrator. Jack Woodman (James Jurdi, the film’s screenwriter) introduces himself, in the halcyon days just before the 2008 financial crisis, as the star dealmaker at Real Estate Global, a top Los Angeles realty company run by CEO and founder Ron Glass. Aging real estate titan Glass—portrayed, probably against his better judgment, by Academy Award nominee Burt Reynolds—dotes on gleefully unscrupulous Jack while disdaining his own son, Aaron (Logan Fahey), a drug-addled playboy, prone to politically incorrect outbursts and hatching convoluted revenge plots.

Vengeful Aaron ensnares double-dealing Jack in just such a trap, luring his rival into a scheme to buy, then flip, a devalued apartment building in a blighted downtown neighborhood. When the illicit insider deal predictably blows up in Jack’s face, he winds up evading jail time, yet forfeits the trust of his mentor, Glass. Knocked off the rails of his high-speed luxury life, Jack’s reduced to occupying a dank basement studio inside the so-called “serendipitous slum” he now wishes he’d never bought. Acting as the building super, he sullenly attends to or avoids his tenants, while shooting the breeze with Billy (Kwese Boakye), an orphaned black pre-teen who lives with his grandmother in one of the apartments.

What began as a Scorsese-light bacchanalia of predatory capitalism here downshifts sharply into would-be heartwarming drama. The surprising twist is that Jurdi’s performance, not exactly credible at the slam-bang start, perks up through the downward turn of Jack’s redemption story. A visible streak of Jack’s chastened dirtbag runs just beneath the surface in his transformation to humbled and perhaps heroic, as Jurdi, showing flashes of old-fashioned big-screen charm, establishes an easy big-brother rapport with young natural Boakye. Jack seems almost deserving when his second chance at success arrives in the seductive form of enigmatic power couple Lana and Frank Hunter, who want to hire Jack to unload their palatial Malibu beach house. The Hunters, saucily played by dark-haired beauty Jessica Clark and a haphazardly be-wigged Rob Lowe, appear to have stepped out of a Roger Moore-era Bond movie. They momentarily shake up this sleepy genre jumble, which, for a moment, threatens to deliver on the wild good time it so clearly wants to sell.

Director Allyn, the primary auteur behind Indonesia’s local hit Red and White war movie trilogy, not to mention the Kellan Lutz direct-to-video action vehicle Java Heat, seems to be having fun with the material. Better at setting up high-tension action set-pieces than staging one that fully pays off, Allyn throws in every split-screen, slow-mo, low-angle shot he can, but doesn’t ever establish much physical menace or danger. He does, however, achieve several instances of gratuitous discomfort, the most notable thanks to a slow-motion sequence of our hero Jack plunging a clogged, overflowing toilet. And it takes cojones even in a spoofy L.A. neo-noir thriller to baldly evoke the most famous broken-nose bandage in the history of L.A. neo-noir movies, while throwing in a Casablanca reference for good measure. No one’s good memories of Chinatown will for a second be eclipsed, but one might wonder why the Malibu beach house offers such a glorious view of the mountains, while no beach or ocean are anywhere in evidence—or why Jack’s ever-changing hair seems to have its own subplot.

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