REVIEW: Gimme Shelter

26 01 2014

Gimme ShelterFor a brief interlude in “Gimme Shelter,” James Earl Jones appears as a hospital chaplain.  You read that right: the James Earl Jones, no confusion such as there might be with the directors named Paul Anderson (Paul Thomas made “The Master” while Paul W.S. made the “Resident Evil” franchise).  We’re talking the James Earl Jones with the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award.

Jones’ inclusion in the film’s cast is one of many touches director Ronald Krauss adds to “Gimme Shelter” to increase its credibility and reach.  A name like Jones lends prestige to a project, and a star like Vanessa Hudgens has the potential to open up an audience of younger viewers that a film about teenage homelessness and pregnancy might not have otherwise.

But all these flourishes meant to endow legitimacy to “Gimme Shelter” only serve to emphasize the disparity between its ambitions and what it is actually capable of achieving.  Though it aims for the nitty-gritty reality of contemporary homelessness, Krauss is really only working with a Lifetime movie-quality script.

Moreover, the drama falls consistently flat.  It’s really a shame as I don’t think Krauss and his cast were truly attempting to turn real-life struggle into pure kitsch.  Hudgens certainly cares for her character Apple, transforming herself physically and accessing some very dark emotional places to convey some searing pain.  But neither she or Ann Dowd (on a career upswing after her fantastic turn in “Compliance“), who plays the saintly Kathy DiFiore with grace, can escape the mire of the cliché-riddled script.

The campy drama detracts from the real problems that “Gimme Shelter” raises.  But issues dramas should do more than just portray a tough subject; they ought to call us to action.  And rather than compel me to immediately help the homeless, the film just drove me to laugh at Vanessa Hudgens trying to outact James Earl Jones from her hospital bed.  She’s the best thing about the movie, to be sure, but that does not mean she can take down Darth Vader and Mufasa.  C2stars

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