Film Review: Crave

Despite its horror-movie title, there are no vampires or cannibal zombies in <i>Crave</i>, which revolves around victims of real-life horrors and an ordinary guy&#8217;s misguided efforts to do what society can't (or to his increasingly disordered mind

Thirty-five-year-old Detroit crime-scene photographer Aiden (Josh Lawson) is all too intimately familiar with urban America's dark underbelly…the violence, the amorality, the dog-eat-dog code of the streets that empowers thugs and oppresses decent men and women. A sexually frustrated recovering alcoholic, Aiden imagines himself a white knight, shining a light on the rottenness others ignore, but deep inside he knows he's just another bottom-feeder who turns the misery of others into cash insufficient to buy the clean, respectable lifestyle to which he aspires. His fantasies of revenge gradually evolve from a quiet way of reducing the stress of his dissatisfaction, a la perpetual dreamer Walter Mitty, into more a sort of mental chancre eating away at his conscience and even his soul.

But it's not until he himself becomes a victim and, in a moment reminiscent of Kathryn Bigelow's 1989 Blue Steel, finds a hopped-up thug's gun discarded on the street that he finds the will to stop serving as a passive chronicler of brutality's aftermath and become someone with the stones to take action. He sets about culling the ranks of the creeps like a low-rent Travis Bickle, a man who won't take it anymore but is, as everyone but he himself realizes, no better than the scum he's determined to wash off the streets. Scum that includes everyone from pimps to sanctimonious jerks (Jim Hanna and Tonya Cornelisse) who monopolize AA meetings with their holier-than-thou accounts of failure followed by enlightened redemption. (Anyone who's ever attended a 12-step meeting will recognize the urge to let a sledgehammer do the talking, but any reasonable person also understands the necessity of letting them talk—that's how 12-step groups work.)

Crave’s strength is its performances, particularly that of Ron Perlman—for whom the term "ever-reliable" is an unfair understatement of surprisingly subtle ability to subsume his distinctive looks into a wide range of characters—as Aiden's friend Pete, a police detective who’s equally disturbed by what goes on in the neon slime but aware that vigilantism isn't a solution: It's just another problem in the mix. But kudos also to Emma Lung as a neighbor locked in a toxic relationship with a controlling boyfriend (Edward Furlong, who still has the sensitively boyish looks that make it seem possible that a pretty, apparently intelligent young woman would stay with an obvious bastard). And finally, Lawson himself, who makes Aiden an object of pity rather than instant scorn, a loser with a fundamentally decent heart minus the social and analytical skills to formulate a constructive plan to do something about the world's wrongs—he can only react, and react badly.

But they're all undermined by not just the clichéd story but director/co-writer Charles de Lauzirika’s misguided tone, which veers from straight-up impotent fury to a clunky humor that's just not funny in the story's overall context. It's certainly possible to make light of violence, but not if you want viewers to be invested in characters who perpetrate it or are its victims.