Lionsgate // 2011 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Rogers (Retired) // April 28th, 2012
"Sometimes the best night of your life happens at the worst possible time."
Don't worry, this film will pop up on a 3:00 AM block of IFC programming any day now.
Casper (Sam Rosen, Oranges) accepts the fact that he was kind of a geeky loser who flew under the radar in high school. But when he returns home from Afghanistan following his father's death, Casper runs into Becky (Zoe Lister-Jones, Salt), a girl he went to school with and for whom he had a burning unrequited passion. With only 24 hours before Casper gets shipped back for another tour of duty, the pair move from one odd situation to the next, all the while talking about issues ranging from deep seeded politics to the meaning of life, in an attempt to feel something in their twentysomething malaise.
If the plot sounds somewhat familiar, that's because it's similar in both style and substance to Richard Linklater's masterpiece, Before Sunrise. Since I find that film to be one of the greatest modern romances, I can't see Stuck Between Stations as anything more than second best. It's an admirable attempt, in the way that it introduces us to Casper and Becky with no real frame of reference to slowly flesh out their characters, but the dialogue is so stilted it just doesn't work. The worst part is that our romantic leads spend the entire film interacting with marginal side characters who pop in and out without adding anything important or meaningful to the narrative.
Speaking of random side characters, Josh Harnett (Pearl Harbor) is in this...for three minutes. Remember when Hollywood was trying to sell us on the fact that Josh was the next big heartthrob? Between that smug smirk and playfully sarcastic attitude, he was supposed to take the world by storm as the next A-list leading man. Well, that never worked out. The fact that he has brief appearance in Stuck Between Stations is just further proof he's stopped caring. Makes you wonder if the producers spent half their budget to wrangle him in just to elevate the film's visibility.
The screenplay tries to capture a strange sense of hip urban breeziness in the way that characters interact. But, when it comes to tackling issues like war in the Middle East, the meaning of existence and death as bedfellows, and the zeitgeist of a lost generation, the dialogue sounds corny and contrived. Rosen and Lister-Jones try their damnedest to make it work, generating a crackling sense of chemistry that enables the film to limp across the finish line. I found myself actually buying into the intimate bond they were creating, and that alone is worth the price of admission.
It's a shame that Brady Kiernan's direction is so uninspired. The camera is only there to tag along with these two characters, as they traverse dark alleyways that seem to be lit by a single candle that burns more orange and sallow than a carton of orange juice. In romance films, the screenplay either has to create a spark that makes the material meaningful, or the direction and camerawork needs to pick up the slack and deliver something truly special. That's why (500) Days of Summer became a mainstream hit. Sadly, Stuck Between Stations lacks sizzle and becomes just another new age romance with bad execution.
Presented in standard definition 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer does as much as it can with murky source material. Because the visuals are doused in deep shadows barely penetrated by poor lighting, there's a wicked amount of digital noise and overall blandness. The Dolby 5.1 Surround track is similarly weak in its complexity, but then you don't exactly expect much from two people talking for 90 minutes. Bonus features are relatively bare, but nothing screams out for inclusion. We get a commentary from the cast and crew, and a behind-the-scenes featurette entitled "Minnesota Originals."
If you're in the mood for a new age romance and can't get hold of either Before Sunrise or Before Sunset, Stuck Between Stations is a conciliatory alternative.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R