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Originally published August 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 31, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Movie review

Diagnosis: "Self-Medicated" has acute corny-itis

At a glance, "Self-Medicated" looks like a film-school kid's high-priced vanity trip. It's a hazy jumble of plot and technique that blends...

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2 stars

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"Self Medicated," with Monty Lapica, Diane Venora, Michael Bowen, Greg Germann, Kristina Anapau. Written and directed by Lapica.

107 minutes. Rated R for substance abuse, language and some sexual material.

At a glance, "Self-Medicated" looks like a film-school kid's high-priced vanity trip. It's a hazy jumble of plot and technique that blends American indie cinema, Hollywood calling card and troubled-adolescent "After School Special" with some genuinely skillful highs and cringingly pretentious lows.

The marquee boasts writing, directing, producing and a starring performance by 24-year-old Monty Lapica. His swagger shines brightest in the technical departments. Lapica's obviously got a career ahead of him behind the camera. Much of the writing sparkles in the details but is often undercut by clumsy dramatic manners. Also, as producer and director, he should have had the instinct to fire his lead actor.

Lapica based the story on his own difficult 17th year, as a rebellious kid in suburban Las Vegas. Andrew, his alter ego, gives up on a bright future as a straight-A student and star athlete after the death of his father. The loss escalates his psyche into repressed despair. He buries his feelings further in bad behavior, bottles of beer and clouds of marijuana smoke, all shared with a typical crowd of high-school stoner pals.

Andrew would be pretty typical himself if not for the fact that he's got near-genius intellect and the potential to do anything he wants, as Nicole (Kristina Anapau), his girl-next-door-best-friend-forever, keeps telling him. But now he's getting into real trouble with real authority figures — butting heads with dumb teachers, bothering cops, fighting at all-night keggers — routine stuff for lots of teenagers unless they're brilliant and should know better, like Andrew.

His mom (Diane Venora) is dealing with her grief by popping pills all day. She finally pulls herself together enough to have Andrew abducted to a crooked, locked-down rehab center where psychological and physical brutality are favored techniques. This makes Andrew even more belligerent, as well it should; the hellhole teen psycho ward is full of suicidal murderers and sex-addicted child-abuse victims — not normal, brilliant potheads who just miss their dad.

Both decent and detestable staff members keep him in and out of the place before he finally takes hold of his life by himself. Well, not entirely by himself. Andrew's epiphany comes via wisdom learned through the atrocious cliché of the gentle, healing black man, represented here by a kindly homeless wanderer named Gabe (William Stanford Davis), whose wings are probably hidden under that filthy overcoat.

"Self-Medicated" has been showered with festival awards and exalted in the industry press, but this viewer found all the boohoo melodrama way too much ado about not too much. Lapica nails a lot of particulars about teen angst within the abnormal circumstances he experienced, and there's no reason to doubt he actually went through the awfulness he depicts. That doesn't mean the story needs to be told with such corny convention. It also doesn't mean we have to believe in the 17-year-old leading character, played by an amateur actor who's 24 and looks it.

It's just a little too simplistic and not a very compelling story: a spoiled, suffering rebellious teen who drives an SUV, smokes pot, drinks beer, then gets over himself and faces a bright future. Isn't this where we came in?

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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