Judge Jennifer Malkowski learned a harsh lesson from Roman: there are movies that even Kristen Bell's considerable charms cannot save.
Sometimes death is not so natural.
If you're looking for a chilling psychological portrait of the mind of a guilt-ridden killer, look in some direction other than Roman, a tedious low-budget thriller with this aspiration. The film takes a long, hard look at the excruciatingly dull life of the title character (Lucky McKee), an unhappy welder who lives in a depressing apartment without so much as a television to while away the hours. Being socially maladjusted, Roman is teased daily by his rowdy coworkers and cannot hope to work up the courage to talk to the unnamed blond in his apartment complex that he has a crush on (Kristen Bell). Instead of approaching her, Roman becomes her stalker and, soon after, her killer. The rest of the long 92 minutes of Roman involves his attempts to move on from this violent incident and form a real relationship with a quirkier attractive neighbor, Eva (Nectar Rose).
Neither good nor so-bad-its-good, Roman exists in the region of standard low-budget mediocrity. It's no surprise to learn from the extras that writer/star McKee wrote the screenplay in three days back in college and didn't change much since then. The whole story, with its painfully predictable "twists," feels like a gimmick stretched far too thin and produced without much money. When the filmmakers go for atmosphere, the result feels monotonous. Musical montages of Roman's dreams, for example, go on for about three times as long as they are interesting, as do the scenes of his daily life sitting around his apartment drinking beer. When they go for serendipity, the result feels contrived. A few of these minor moments stretch disbelief far past its ripping point, as, for example, a basic misconception about what kind of high-functioning motor skills one has while sleeping. When they go for cute, the results are annoying. Eva's screen time provides a near-constant example of this last criticism.
In addition to these problems with tone, there are many elements of the film that just don't make sense. Roman watches Bell's character return from work every day at 5:32 P.M., but in the sequence chronicling several days of this activity, she is wearing the exact same outfit each time. Director Angela Bettis "explains" in the commentary track that this was supposed to be her work uniform, but it really doesn't look like a uniform—it looks a lot more like terrible production values. Though the setting of the film is not directly established, the apartment complex and its visible palm trees smack of L.A. (where it was likely shot). Yet the company Roman works for has somehow managed to drudge up a huge pack of the type of crude country boys to staff their factory and torment Roman. Finally, rewatch the murder scene and try establishing a cause of death for poor Kristen Bell—perhaps it was embarrassment? As the star of the TV's fabulous and underappreciated Veronica Mars, Bell has proven herself far too talented to be slumming it on films like Roman. Considering that her portions of the film were shot several years ago, she, too, has probably realized that by now.
There's not a lot to compliment about Roman. Bell and McKee acquit themselves pretty well in their roles, and Rose is only as irritating as the character she is given. McKee actually works up some very realistic looking tears at one point—a testament to the powers of his imagination or to his unshakeable faith in the quality of his own script. A few visually cool shots pepper the film in some of the dream sequences and in the eerie lakeside landscape Roman visits every Sunday.
The aesthetics are compromised, though, by muddy dialogue and a surprisingly blurry, low-quality image. The first part of the film with Bell is the most offensive to the eye, with even the titles failing to come into focus. This part looks like it was shot on an old family VHS camcorder, but the second part looks better, shot with a Canon XL-2. Echo Bridge offers almost an hour of pretty standard extras, plus a commentary track. We get to see some earlier versions of the film with different actors playing Roman, including one interminably lengthy sequence of Roman smoking and stalking, drenched in a heavy, wannabe Hitchcock score. The interview with cast and crew is more engaging than almost anything else on the disc, including the film itself, thanks to some creative editing, costuming, and an extremely adorable pug puppy that accompanies the interviewees. Rose makes an unfortunate claim to doing "crazy David Lynch type stuff" here, though, and Kristen Bell is nowhere to be found.
An utterly forgettable entry into the bloated ranks of killer-thriller
films, Roman will likely attract only die-hard genre fans and die-hard
Veronica Mars fans. As one of the latter, I wouldn't even recommend it
for the 20-odd minutes of Bell.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
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