Faux-doc American Hero takes place in New Orleans, a city still overcoming its devastation post-Katrina. It’s in this state of recovery where a local named Melvin and his telekinetic powers find a meaning. He’s a persuasive street magician to those who need something to believe in and a wild partier to his compadres, but a disappointment to the ones he loves.
After losing custody of his young son Rex, Melvin entertains the public while he devolves into his own self-destruction through alcoholism and heavy drug use. He’s enabled by his buddies, though his best friend Lucille – a wheelchair-bound ex-soldier – isn’t afraid to call Melvin out on his indulgent behaviour.
Though virtually plotless and set on autopilot, American Hero is a potent character study. Writer/director Nick Love (The Football Factory) issues his performers lots of space for them to find their individualized natural element. The spacious filmmaking allows Stephen Dorff a substantial opportunity to play a multilayered – albeit simplified – leading character in which he succeeds, and Undercover Brother’s Eddie Griffin receives a chance to sink into a more sobering type of comic relief. Though Dorff can disguise himself, Griffin is still recognizable whenever he fires off funny quips or repetitively uses a certain twelve-letter word – one that could acknowledge friends or foes.
While American Hero works as an actor’s showcase and a low-rent version of Hancock or The Wrestler, the film doesn’t necessarily show Love’s strengths as a screenwriter. The film’s structure is too cut and dry, leading to abrupt decisions that everybody can either accept or agree with in a matter of a few lines of dialogue. Since Love sports his project as a gritty movie, it’s tough to accept these moments of casual understanding.
The faux-doc format is a bit finicky as well. Nick Love is only using it to grab occasional interviews from the community to talk about Melvin and his special abilities, which is fine, but it becomes problematic when the film crew is suddenly invisible. I don’t think I saw one of American Hero’s villainous thugs even acknowledge the presence of a camera. If a filmmaker is going to carry out this method, they shouldn’t be forgetful.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie