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Originally published Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 3:02 PM

Movie review

'Bellflower': Promising drama undone by mayhem, pretension

A movie review of "Bellflower," Evan Glodell's first feature, which is at cross-purposes — a nuanced, compressed drama about 20-something slackers on one hand, and a tedious action-suspense flick with alternate-reality pretensions on the other.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2 stars

'Bellflower,' with Evan Glodell, Tyler Dawson, Jessie Wiseman, Vincent Grashaw. Written and directed by Glodell. 106 minutes. Rated R for language, disturbing violence, nudity, drug use. Harvard Exit.

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Equally fascinating and tedious, "Bellflower" is a lost cause of a movie, torn apart by incompatible ambitions.

On one hand, this debut feature by actor-writer-director Evan Glodell is an occasionally insightful story about two boy-men drifters whose hazy, laid-back resistance to real life ends when they meet a cluster of shiftless young adults in a Los Angeles neighborhood.

On the other, "Bellflower" is a scorched-earth action film, high on an apocalyptic taste for mayhem, blood and even fractured, alternate-reality logic.

Any good film can embrace such contradictions, but in this case different agendas are competing. Glodell seems to be simultaneously auditioning to make his next film either a small, chamber drama or the next installment in "The Terminator" franchise.

In "Bellflower," the mirthful Woodrow (Glodell) and his rascal of a best friend, Aiden (Tyler Dawson), both mid-20s, talk as incessantly as 12-year-olds might about what it would be like to live in a post-apocalyptic world. They're silly guys who mess with flame throwers, explosives and a muscle car recalling the one Mel Gibson drove in "The Road Warrior."

Enter Milly (Jessie Wiseman), who hooks up with Woodrow, ensnaring him and Aiden in a tension-filled community of slacker friends. A crossfire of backbiting and betrayal soon follow, made worse after an accident alters Woodrow's personality.

"Bellflower" is best when Glodell insightfully explores relationships changing under pressure. Aiden and Woodrow watch one another's backs, as friends do, but at more desperate times, the caretaker streak in Aiden seems more maternal than fraternal. When their loyalty is severely tested we expect fireworks but instead get a far more touching scene in which pain is visibly swallowed.

As a storyteller, Glodell possesses a nascent sophistication, and he's a good actor. His transformation from innocent to avenger in "Bellflower" is startling, echoing that of Gibson in "Mad Max," a movie Aiden and Woodrow dwell upon.

But "Bellflower" is sabotaged by its conflicting objectives. It works well as compressed drama, with unnerving patches of shaky quiet that underscore emotional violence. When it turns anarchic, raging around with slow- motion images of a car spinning out and playing head games about what's real and what's not, it loses air.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

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