Case Number 07361: Small Claims Court

JULIAN PO

New Line // 1997 // 84 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // August 9th, 2005

The Charge

An incredible journey of love and discovery.

The Case

Alan Wade's Julian Po is a missed opportunity for an interesting character study about a man who has decided to kill himself, but chooses to travel to the sea in order to do so. The movie would rather be a quirky pseudo-comedy, in which a stranger appears in a small town packed solid with eccentrics and changes their lives forever. Or do they change his? The answer, I'm sorry to report, is "who cares?" We've seen this all before.

Christian Slater (Heathers, True Romance) stars at the titular Julian Po, a professional bookkeeper so mild-mannered he makes soup seem exciting. He arrives in a quiet town after his car breaks down, arising suspicion in the town's inhabitants -- most of whom deduce he's there to sell drugs or murder them. When he finally confesses to them that the only person he's there to kill is himself, he becomes something of a cult hero. They begin to shower him with attention and gifts. They confide in him and turn to him for advice. They treat him as a role model -- here is someone who has a goal and plans to stick to it. The go-nowhere citizens of such a small place can admire him.

I like the premise of the film (for which Wade cannot take all of the credit; it's based on a book by Branimir Scepanovic), and I want to like Po, who is played by Slater quietly and without his usual fire or madness. He's a bland, tired man who's lived an unnoticed life and wishes to die the same way; I liked the slouch in his shoulders, and the way his moustache never fully grew in. It's too bad, then, that writer/director Wade never allows us to get to know him -- we know his situation, but never know the man. Wade would also rather drown the proceedings in quirk and clichés than examine the small story he's got; there are shots of townspeople spying and gossiping, and one truly awful sequence in which the entire town gathers to follow Po as he walks down the street. You would think they're either all aliens, or that he is; either way, the sequence exists solely for a cheap visual joke. This movie ought to know better.

It helps matters that just about every one of the town's residents is played by a great character actor: there's Frankie Faison from In Good Company, and Harve Presnell from Fargo, and Michael Parks from the Kill Bill movies, and Cherry Jones from Cradle Will Rock (who provides the film's best performance without speaking a single word), and Allison Janney from The Hours, and Dina Waters from Greg the Bunny, and...well, you get the idea. Like the Po character, though, the film doesn't get to know any of these people; it provides a trait or two and moves on to the next character. By the time Robin Tunney (of Cherish, a good actress who winds up in a lot of mediocre movies) shows up as Julian's love interest, a girl who believes he's the man she's waited for all her life, the film seems like it might go somewhere. It doesn't. Julian still moves from person to person, conversation to conversation, sometimes giving the impression that everything has changed for him and other times that nothing has.

The ending arrives, and it is jarring and abrupt. Surely the movie has ended too soon. There is still much to learn about Julian and his predicament, isn't there? And, yet, the conclusion manages a kind of poetry that the preceding eighty minutes lacks. The ending, while sudden, is perfectly in keeping with the tone promised by the opening moments, and which the movie fails to deliver on. Still, though, I cannot decide if it is the logical conclusion to the film, or a cheat; either way, the film's finale is better than just about all of what came before it, and offers a glimpse of what Julian Po could have been.

The movie comes to DVD courtesy of New Line. It's presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, enhanced for 16 x 9 playback; the image looks clean and bright, with little to complain about. The same goes for the disc's 5.1 audio track, which delivers the dialogue suitably and without any real problems. The only extras provided are a couple of bonus trailers for other art films from Fine Line, New Line Cinema's "classy" division.

Julian Po is lighter and broader than it needs to be, and takes a number of disappointing turns after a promising start. There's enough in it to admire -- keeping the film from being a total failure -- but it doesn't work as a whole. It's the kind of movie that's just good enough to make one wish it was better.

Review content copyright © 2005 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 73

Perp Profile
Studio: New Line
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks
* Bonus Trailers

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0119429/combined