- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2007

Donald Sutherland, cool and sagacious, tries to fight it. Diane Lane, sultry and mature, lends a gentle hand. But not even their valiant efforts tame the beast that is “Fierce People” — a beast that resembles the screeching teenaged offspring of a bad Lifetime movie and an episode of “Melrose Place.”

Scripted by Dirk Wittenborn (based on his book) and directed by Griffin Dunne (“Practical Magic”), “Fierce People” hypothesizes that rich people are like primitive tribes. It explores this notion through 16-year-old Finn (Anton Yelchin), whose dreams of spending the summer with his father amid the jungle-dwelling Ishkanani people are dashed when he gets caught buying dope for his mom, Liz (Miss Lane).

Rather than languishing in juvenile hall, however, Finn lands among another exotic tribe when his mother calls up a wealthy “friend” named Mr. Osborne (Mr. Sutherland). The moneyed man agrees to hire Liz (who works as a masseuse in both senses, if you catch our drift), and also lends her and her son a guest home on his 10-square-mile property in posh Vlyvalle.

Suddenly, magically even, Liz is off the junk (gosh, if it’s so easy, why doesn’t everyone quit?), and Finn is making inroads with the tony teens scampering about the estate. Finn romances Mr. Osborne’s granddaughter, Maya (Kristen Stewart), and befriends her brother, Bryce (Chris Evans), yet he still senses he’s on the outside. Sounds like the ideal situation for performing an anthropological study, wouldn’t you say? Finn thinks so.

The teen’s research yields … nothing new: youngsters partying and hooking up like adults; dangerous family secrets of infidelity, violence and blackmail; hiding away the “retards” and dismissing those who are less than well-heeled; and so forth. (Didn’t sex workers who resent being looked down upon by the rich get enough play in “Pretty Woman”?)

To remind us that this realm isn’t as prim and proper as it looks (as if our memories needed a jog), Mr. Dunne keeps looping the Ishkanani footage. If nothing else, this desensitizes the audience enough to help the director get away with a teen sex scene involving body paint that hopefully made more than just this reviewer squirm.

If your eyes aren’t rolling already, wait until the third act, when the film shows its true prime time melodrama colors.

Mr. Yelchin doesn’t do much to engage viewers with his chirpy, over-eager delivery, and pretty-boy Mr. Evans plus his cardboard-cutout character equals one jarring scene after another.

Forget fierce people; audiences are more likely to walk away from this picture with a feeling of fierce dislike.

*

TITLE: “Fierce People”

RATING:R (adult language, drug use, violence and sexual situations)

CREDITS: Directed by Griffin Dunne. Written by Dirk Wittenborn based on his book.

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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