Film Review: Answers to Nothing

An overlong bunch of intertwining stories, none of which is worth the viewer’s time.

We’re in serious Crash/Magnolia/Short Cuts territory with Answers to Nothing, as writer-director Matthew Leutwyler concocts one of those interwoven webs of disparate Los Angeles lives. A little girl has gone missing, and among the various suspects police detective Frankie (Julie Benz) has her eye on is a weird schoolteacher, Carter (Mark Kelly), into fantasy online gaming, who points the finger at his neighbor, Beckworth (Greg Germann). Another neighbor, Jerry (Erik Palladino), who is training to be a cop, also gets involved.

Ryan (Dane Cook) is a therapist, unhappily married to Kate (Elizabeth Mitchell), who yearns for a child and is unaware of hubby’s affair with musician Tara (Aja Volkman). Ryan’s mother (Barbara Hershey) adds more to his plate with her issues involving his father, who deserted her. Ryan’s client Allegra (Kali Hawk) writes for television and, although African-American, hates black people, something she tells a shocked new romantic interest (Zach Gilford). Then there’s Drew (Miranda Bailey), a recovering alcoholic fighting a custody battle over her brother (Vincent Ventresca), brain-dead after an accident in which she was involved.

Got all that? This plethora of characters may make you yearn for the good old days of Grand Hotel, when such a conglomeration was easier to keep track of, not to mention a helluva lot more alluring. Such is Leutwyler’s strained direction, which suffers from every handheld, desaturated-color-palette, woozily indulgent crime of indie cinema, and his forced, simplistic writing, that you watch all these confused folk in a state of complete detachment. You leave each character with a certain relief, which is only replaced by the dread of encountering the next one’s dreary, unoriginal problems. And by this point there really should be a ban on missing-child plot devices. It’s so tired and shamefully easy; almost as if to prove the point, Leutwyler doesn’t ever show the poor, lost kid—even at the end, when she is rescued.

The material is so monotonously shoddy that the actors—including Hershey, who is so face-lifted that she looks more like Cook’s younger sister than his mother—sink without a trace, despite all their sweating and screaming. After being fellated by Tara, Ryan asks her to spit out his sperm, so he can surreptitiously take it to his baby doctor. It’s sick, outrageous and kind of funny, the very thing you’d expect from Cook, but the fact remains that this comedic wild man is singularly unconvincing playing a therapist, of all things. Leutwyler likes to go for facile shock, like the character of Allegra, whatever the hell we are supposed to make of her. Allegra’s hang-up is a risky idea to begin with, but—like so much else here—Leutwyler seems incapable of properly delineating or developing it, and will likely offend many.