Judge Cynthia Boris has zero tolerance for films that intentionally set out to bore their audience to death.
Our review of Jam (2006), published March 25th, 2009, is also available.
Get Ready for a Sunday Drive Like No Other
Anyone who reads my reviews on a regular basis knows I'm a sucker for an Irwin Allen project. In the late seventies, he made a number of TV movies about regular people stuck in extraordinarily bad circumstances such as Hanging by a Thread (a stuck mountain cable car), Cave-in, and the sadly prophetic, The Night the Bridge Fell Down. The movies all revolved around the personal issues of those trapped—just likeJam. They were stocked with recognizable TV actors—just likeJam. They generally included a pregnant woman, kids, and a convict on the run—just like Jam. And they were exciting tales about people in peril—Jam, not so much.
Facts of the Case
Josh (Dan Bryd, Aliens in America) is on a road trip with his father (William Forsythe). It's not a happy outing to begin with and it gets worse when Josh rear-ends another car. Said car was being driven by cellist, Lorraine (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Without a Trace) who was on her way to play in a Father's Day concert up in the mountains. She slammed on the brakes in order to avoid a dog (What is a dog doing on a mountain round in the middle of nowhere?). The minor fender-bender knocks down an electrical pole and that flimsy excuse is what strands five cars of motorists on their way to various events.
We have the power couple, Judy (Julie Claire, Dirt) and Gary (Jonathan Silverman, In Case of Emergency who are dealing with the issue of whether or not to have children—and dealing with it in a really weird way.
Then we have the trio of twenty-somethings, Amy, Jen and Stephanie (Amanda Detmer, Elizabeth Bogush, and Amanda Foreman) who are on the way to Amy's wedding with the wedding cake tucked into the back of their SUV.
Mick (Alex Rocco, The Division) and Ruby (Tess Harper, Early Edition) are a happy, well-adjusted older couple whose soul function seems to be as a sounding board for Dale (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Supernatural) and his two kids (Marissa Blanchard and Skyler Gisondo). Dale is divorced and this may be his last Father's Day with his children as he's planning to move soon but the kids don't know it.
And finally, we have the bohemian, lesbian couple of Lilac (Gina Torres, Firefly) and Rose (Mariah O'Brien) who team up with a pair of bumbling ATM thieves, Curt (Christopher Amitrano, ER) and Jerry (David DeLuise, Stargate: SG-1), in order to deliver Rose's baby.
Plot, you ask? What plot?
"Charging across a blazing rural highway, a dog causes a collision. Cars stop, tensions mount, and frustrations escalate. With no relief in sight, five groups of travelers confront their fears while exploring family, friends and their futures."
So says the back of the DVD box and whoever wrote that should get a raise for writing such a brilliant piece of copy. It's exciting. It makes me want to watch the movie. Sadly, though, it's the most exciting thing about this movie and that's a real shame.
Jam is the Seinfeld of indie films. It's a movie about nothing. No one is hurt in the collision. The thieves are innocuous to the point of being silly. The one attempt at a sexual liaison goes nowhere and even the "big reveals" aren't all that big. They're actually pretty expected.
There's a vague thread of "father issues" through out the piece. Dale, the divorced dad, trying to do right by his kids. The lesbian couple raising a baby without benefit of a father figure. The yuppie husband who wants to be a dad. The cellist who is playing as a tribute to her late father and of course, the teenager and his 'my dad doesn't get me', shtick. Add that to the fact that the story takes place on Father's Day and you have as close as you're going to get to a theme.
Beyond that, it's pretty much about watching people melt down—or not—in an annoying situation. There's no danger. More comedy than drama, but not enough comedy to make this a funny movie. Actually, the title, Jam does the movie a disservice. Stuck, would have been a better title or Bored because there's none of the intensity that people feel in a real traffic jam—believe me, I live in Los Angeles, I know traffic jams. The situation is so slight that I found myself wondering why someone didn't turn their car around and go back down the road for help, or try walking a ways until their cell phone had reception. Even the "live wire" obstacle seemed like it could have been dealt with or driven around.
All of that is to say that I never felt the drama, the tension or the confronting of fears as listed on the back of the DVD box. What I felt was nothing and even at my laziest I prefer to come away from a movie with something, even if it is only a good laugh or a moment of introspection.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Jam is nothing more than a character study. In that, it succeeds to a certain extent. In general, the actors are all better than the material they've been given. It has a fine little cast of mostly TV actors, which means you'll likely recognize their faces even if you can't place where from. Alex Rocco has been a television staple since he appeared on Batman in 1967 and you may remember him as Jo's father on The Facts of Life. Tess Harper, as Rocco's wife is underused, but I like her as a person and Dan Byrd (the typical teen) seems to be an actor with a future.
I wanted to see this movie because I'm a huge fan of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and I wasn't disappointed by what I got from him, either. But then, Jeff could stand still and recite the phone book in that deep drawl of his and I'd be happy.
I will admit, that while watching the movie, I never once felt the temptation to fast forward but if that's the best thing you can say about a film, that's terribly sad.
Watching Jam, is like watching a dozen real people do what real people do when they're stuck—which is nothing much. So if it was the filmmaker's desire to capture a very real moment in the lives of very normal people, he succeeded with flying colors.
As for the DVD itself, the sound is fine, the video is soft and a little grainy but it kind of works for the type of film that it is. The featurette is kind enough to give you a spoiler warning before it gets started and the commentary will be encouraging to any young filmmaker who is trying to get his project off the ground. The deleted scenes are mostly of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, so his rabid fan base should be happier, particularly with one outtake that has him singing a silly song with his on-screen children.
This court finds Jam guilty of theft. 91 minutes of my life, stolen away with nothing to show for it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Starz Home Entertainment
• "When Lives Collide" Featurette
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