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Dead Man's Curve
cast: Matthew Lillard, Michael Vartan, Randall Batinkoff, Keri Russell, and Dana Delany

writer and director: Dan Rosen

87 minutes (15) 2002
widescreen ratio 16:9
Prism Leisure DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Ian Shutter
This sporadically funny Hitchcockian psychological thriller is about a conspiracy to commit murder, intended to look like a suicide. A couple of failing US college students learn that if a roommate kills himself (presumably after cracking under the pressure of studying) the campus authorities' rarely invoked charter includes a 'moral' duty to automatically handout free 'grade A' passes (as required for entry to Harvard) to the dead guy's best friends, in order to avoid the further emotional stress of needless grief, "survivor's guilt" and resultant depression, which, the college dean and psych counsellor are convinced would hamper students' advancement...

Matthew Lillard (who plays Shaggy in the execrable Scooby-Doo movies) and Michael Vartan (co-star of TV series Alias) play Tim and Chris, for whom life is hard but death is easy. They plot to throw their unpopular chum Rand (Randall Batinkoff) off a cliff to ensure they get ahead at his expense. Tim (Lillard) is the real killer of the duo. Chris (Vartan) is more reluctant when the plan starts to go awry, leaving Tim with the dirty work to do, like disposing of the body while his accomplice is driven to throw up. However, all is not what it seems here. In fact, almost nothing is what it seems at all. Nobody (including the cops) in this variably intriguing thriller from fairly competent first-time director Dan Rosen tells the whole truth about anything, and that's as much a problem as it is an essential part of the drama and the film's generic appeal.

This is almost one of those annoying teen-appeal movies where the rock music on the soundtrack is clearly intended to be of equal, if not more, importance to all concerned than the script or the storytelling. You won't be surprised to hear the main plot is not particularly original. It was previously used in Alan Cohn's Dead Man On Campus (1998). Rosen shows promise with this version of the macabre tale but is unfortunately prone to introducing 'clever' novice/student filmmaking tricks in a doomed-to-failure attempt to manipulate the audience's thinking and emotional responses. In one key scene, Tim relates a salty anecdote about Rand dumping his girlfriend and taking a whore to the high school prom night, and as the monologue continues the background fades to black to spotlight Mr Lillard's delivery. It's a faux note that actually detracts from the actor's performance, and the backstory episode, and it's a good example of how a director metaphorically shoots himself in the foot by allowing style to interfere with content.

Overall, the film is enjoyable enough, and talented actress Dana Delany is good as the shrink who can't give up smoking but, unfortunately, Dead Man's Curve is still not a patch on Michael Lehmann's classic Heathers.

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