Film Review: Run the Tide

Run away from 'Run the Tide,' a family drama of siblings dealing with the imminent release of their imprisoned mom, capsized by confusing family ties, muddled motivations and incoherent chronology.
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When a drama about a junkie mother being released from prison—leading her blue-collar, twenty-something son to hit the road with the ten-year-old sibling he raised, in order the keep the boy away from toxic Mom—proves as pedestrian as Run the Tide, you want to Walk the Hell Away.

First-time feature filmmakers Soham Mehta, a film editor turned director, and Rajiv Shah, an actor turned writer, do show admirable ambition in their use of practical locations, night shooting, and either getting the cooperating of a New Mexico prison to film on its grounds or doing a damn good job of faking it. I wish I could be more positive about their results, but the clunkily directed family drama is more muddled than a hipster cocktail. What is it about? What's it trying to say? Why does the focus shift two-thirds of the way through to start concentrating on two secondary characters?

Rey Hightower (Taylor Lautner)—and, really, what dirt-poor deplorable would name their son Rey and not Ray?—lives in a trailer that's seen too many trails, and is doing his best to keep his brother Oliver (Nico Christou) fed and off to school on time. It's not easy—Oliver is on a simmering boil all the time, since the only time the boy can see his mother is on visiting day, to which he has to drag a reluctant Rey, and for some reason he doesn't live with his stepfather, Bo (Kenny Johnson), who owns a gas station and minimart where Rey works. Or maybe Bo's his father, though the movie never mentions that possibility, even though Rey says Dad left when Rey was too young to know anything about him. But Oliver is 10, so…Dad left when Rey was 15? The chronology doesn't add up—nor does it when Bo refers to a talk he and Rey had "a few days ago," even though the events in between very clearly show that only one day has passed. When filmmakers can't keep something as basic as the timeframe coherent, it's no wonder the movie turned out the way it did.

The always-welcome Constance Zimmer, deglammed and dowdy, plays Lola, who got her beautician's license during her six years in prison and now wants to take Oliver from Rey and be a real mom to the boy. Rey, who gave up his dreams in order to raise Oliver, strongly objects. Two things: In the six years that junkie mom was in the slammer and Bo was living separately from the boys, Rey could have gotten a guardianship; hell, the state probably would have insisted. Second, his dreams appear to involve bumming around the world fishing, so it's really hard to see how that would have happened, Oliver or no.

With the repentant Lola due to be sprung, Rey tells Oliver they're going on a little vacation to Santa Clara, Calif., outside San Francisco. The precocious Oliver, no fool, tells his brother, "You know, officially this is kidnapping." But figuring he has no choice, he goes along. Uninspired sibling bonding follows, along with by-the-numbers confrontation and an ill-conceived trip to an old girlfriend, who despite an exquisite effort by Zimmer's "UnREAL" cast-mate Johanna Braddy comes off as an empty plot device with no clear persona or mixed-up motivation. Lola and Bo—who remains her husband out of loyalty, though he doesn't want to sleep with her—go after the boys based on, apparently, Lola's psychic hunch. The film then veers into tangential asides involving the couple's relationship and Bo's old dream of growing fruit trees and other yadda-yadda late developments that would have made more sense if either character had been established as fleshed-out people an hour earlier. Except for Oliver, whose needs are straightforward, everyone's actions in this film seem arbitrary, since we know so little about who they really are or why they want what they want.

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