- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2001

W hat with "Max Keeble's Big Move," "Liam" and "L.I.E.," this is an appalling week for movies that dwell on juveniles.

"L.I.E.," an independent, semiprofessional feature directed by Michael Cuesta, derives its title from the Long Island Expressway and attempts to juggle sinister, salacious and mawkish episodes with the plight of a delinquent 15-year-old, Howie Blitzer (Paul Franklin Dano).

Howie, recently saddened by the accidental death of his mother, is estranged from his upper-middle-class dad (Bruce Altman), who seems to be consoling himself with a live-in bimbo but is overwhelmed by business troubles.

So overwhelmed, in fact, he ends up in FBI custody, leaving Howie with no visible means of support as the movie draws to a close. The luridly controversial element in the setup is Brian Cox as a craggy pederast called Big John Harrigan, a former Marine who seems to function as a Fagin for criminally inclined boys in the suburbs. Howie meets him after participating in burglaries with a frankly homosexual young felon called Gary Terrio (Billy Kay).

Gary vanishes as troublemaker No. 1 about midway through the movie, which is destined to stall irreparably after an hour or so. Mr. Cuesta finds himself doubling back to a prologue sequence, but he never gets the plot adequately restarted.

The movie is weakened because its guiding suspense element is prurient rather than dramatic. You're not sure how far Mr. Cuesta plans to go with Big John's initial overtures to Howie, who looms as the new boy in a long, long parade that recently included Gary. As it turns out, John's lewdness is mercifully fleeting. Howie's situation seems to bring out a paternalistic side that diminishes John's shameful lust, at least for the time being.

Evidently, this is the "ambiguity" that accounts for the movie's reputation as a low-budget festival discovery: It flaunts an environment that teems with creepy sexual prospects and then unveils the tender, civilized susceptibilities of the senior sex offender.

Howie even turns out to be a poetical love object, capable of disarming Big John with a lengthy recitation from Walt Whitman.

At this point, the movie seems to blunder into inadequately explored comic terrain. Mr. Cuesta may have overlooked an opportunity to fashion another "Love and Death on Long Island" not that I would be cheering that.

He leaves every characterization in ragged condition. Indeed, abandonment seems to be his way of resolving character development.

He obviously desires to contrive something complex and sympathetic out of the damaged goods embodied by Mr. Blitzer and Big John. Unfortunately, he cannot sustain the effort. The movie ends up looking as stranded as the young protagonist. "L.I.E." might as well stand for Lost in the Enactment.

1/2 Star.


RATING: NC-17 (frequent profanity and sexual candor, concentrated on an older man's appetite for teen-age boys; fragmentary views of reputed porn films; a fleeting interlude of simulated heterosexual intercourse; fleeting nudity; and graphic violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Michael Cuesta; screenplay by Stephen M. Ryder, Michael Cuesta and Gerald Cuesta; cinematography by Romeo Tirone; production design by Elise Bennett; costume design by Daniel Glicker; and music by Pierre Foldes

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes


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