The Good: Generally decent acting, Explores interethnic relations in a straightforward manner.
The Bad: Utterly unlikable characters, Almost absent plot
The Basics: Havoc meanders through one white poseur girl’s interactions with Latino gangmembers in Los Angeles.
Synchronicity is a wonderful and weird thing. After years of trying to find Havoc on DVD, as I am a fan of Anne Hathaway’s works, I managed to get the disc in from my new library system just yesterday. As fortune would have it, I complete the Anne Hathaway film library on the day of her (first*) marriage! I knew nothing about Havoc before picking it up, save that it is an especially hard video for the library to find and Anne Hathaway appears topless in it (which disproved the notion that she only takes her clothes off for films Jake Gyllenhaal is in!).
As it stood, I watched Havoc, which also features Joseph Gordon-Levitt the morning after being impressed by his work in Looper (reviewed here!), so I was prepared to enjoy the film on several levels.
Opening with Allison Lang defining children from Los Angeles’s The Palisades as exceptionally sheltered on video, she and her friends discuss why they have adopted gangster culture over identifying with anything classically “white.” After getting into a fight with Latino gangsters, proving her claims that they are young and acting stupid, as Eric video tapes them and the party that follows. While Allison’s parents struggle with their marriage, she continues to hang out with Toby, Sam, and Emily. They take a trip into East Los Angeles where Toby tries to pick up drugs from the hustlers there. Despite Toby getting humiliated over the deal gone bad, Allison continued to hang out with him.
Following that, Allison and her girlfriends hang out with rich white businessmen, get high and head downtown. Allison returns without her friends to hang out with Hector that leads her to get thrown – very temporarily - in juvenile detention. Hanging out with Emily the next day, Emily reveals her true feelings to her and they go together to a family event together. Emily and Allison make moves to join Hector’s gang, which quickly turns dark for all involved.
Havoc is a tough film to get excited about. It’s all about poseur characters who fake being tougher than they are. They are universally unlikable because none of them seem very genuine, except in the moments their facades come down. This can be problematic in that it is hard to evaluate the characters for being “real” when they spend so much time working to be anything other than that.
So, for example, when Allison begs Hector for Toby’s life, she cracks and seems realistically desperate. Emotional fragility in that sort of moment is entirely realistic. Similarly, when one of the gang members sees how terrified Allison’s friends are when they infiltrate downtown while high, his “boo!” rxposes them as simple, real people in a way that Allison’s friends do not really see them. Regardless, given how much “nigger” (the word) is thrown around and how infrequently the characters seem like interesting people having a universal experience. Allison pimping out her friend and Amanda actually continuing to go along with her friends when she is clearly uncomfortable “reads” as real wrong.
On the acting front, Havoc holds up, largely because the performers made me loathe the disingenuous qualities of the characters. Hathaway’s Allison is skanky and plays a character who is acting. As she breaks out into “street” voice for the camera, it is as laughable as when any teenager does that. She plays a druggie almost convincingly. Unfortunately, she is too good for her character. When Allison begins to rant on camera, she comes at Eric with multiple characters and while Hathaway sells the different characters, she fails to sell that Allison is smart, clever, and a good enough actor to sell those different characters. In simpler terms, Hathaway is a smart actress playing a ridiculous character who suddenly seems smart for a scene and that does not work.
Far more impressive than Hathaway in Havoc is Freddy Rodriguez. Rodriguez is in a completely different role than the one that made his career in Six Feet Under (reviewed here!). Rodriguez has an entirely different posture and attitude than his character from Six Feet Under and he sells it. Channing Tatum’s brief role has the actor almost unrecognizable and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s lackey character is absolutely laughable, but Gordon-Levitt effectively sells himself as that type of idiotic character.
Also good is Bijou Phillips. Long before her character reveals her romantic interest in Allison, Phillips plays those elements up in her performance with her body language, looks, and the way she delivers her lines.
Havoc seems like it wants to be, alternatively Crash (reviewed here!) and Requiem For A Dream (reviewed here!). The film is far too jumbled for that and the essential character conflicts are nowhere near as compelling. Allison realistically sells the film in the opening when she says that she and her friends are young, dumn, and bored. As a result, the film never achieves the personal, wrenching pathos of Requiem For A Dream. Similarly, because the main protagonists are just young, dumb, and bored, none of them reach the honest emotional complexity of the characters in Crash. The result is that Havoc is, more frequently, young people behaving badly. Given how Emily and Allison go searching for thugs, it is tough to be sympathetic to them when their characters get into violent situations as a result of their ridiculously bad decisions.
The film tries, by adding elements like Allison’s parents having marital difficulties that make them neglectful (which makes most of the film possible), but it never commits to the full premise. Halfway through the movie, Havoc drops the filmmaking conceit and Eric’s character. By the time it comes back into play, right before the film's inevitable clash of gangs, the viewer is unlikely to actually care about it or be honestly sympathetic to the characters involved.
Havoc appears on DVD with only previews for other films. Loaded with offensive language, nudity, and excessive drug use, Havoc rises to mediocre, but fails to be anything enduringly worthwhile.
For works featuring Anne Hathaway, please check out my reviews of:
Anne Hathaway For Wonder Woman!
The Dark Knight Rises
Love And Other Drugs
Family Guy Presents: It's A Trap!
Alice In Wonderland
Twelfth Night Soundtrack
Rachel Getting Married
The Devil Wears Prada
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
The Other Side Of Heaven
The Princess Diaries
For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
* We wish Ms. Hathaway all the luck in the world**, but 1. Hollywood marriages seldom last and 2. If my wife can hold out hope for David Bowie leaving Iman so she’ll have a chance with him, I ought to be able to keep the torch burning for Hathaway!
** In all seriousness, happy Anne Hathaway wedding day! We wish you all the best for a long, happy, and emotionally satisfying marriage!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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