May 03 2009

New review: Look

Look (dir: Adam Rifkin)

In the opening sequence of Look, a pair of high school girls slip into a department store changing room, strip of their shirts and shake their booties in nothing more than a thong between slipping in and out of little dresses and blouses. These are twenty-something actresses, of course, not innocent underage teens captured in a piece of peeping tom pornography, but director Adam Rifkin wants to play it for that illicit charge, exploiting a situation that carries an implicit condemnation for anyone who actually looks.

The surveillance camera collage

The surveillance camera collage

That’s pretty much the level that the rest of the film works at. Not the nudity but the kind of unguarded behavior that people supposedly reveal when they think they’re not being watched. Through the course of the film, we see an insatiably horny department store manager screw practically every young female member of the staff in the storeroom, a teacher give in to the relentless seduction of an underage student, cop get murdered, bystanders robbed and kidnapped, and a child get snatched from a mall by a murky predator who prowls the food court (the “reveal” of the predator’s identity is one of those moments that is supposed to “mean” something but merely adds another nasty details to the mosaic).

These people act is if no one is watching, but in fact there cameras everywhere. The real premise of the film is that the criss-crossing stories are observed from via the unblinking eye of the ever-present technology of modern life, from surveillance cameras in department stores and parking lots and ATMs to traffic cams, police car dashboard cameras and nanny cams. It’s not really “Big Brother” so much as isolated pockets of surveillance; it’s not the government is watching but some bored security guards copying their favorite clips and swapping notes. It’s all “source video,” or at least that’s pretense, thanks to plenty of digital manipulation by Rifkin and company, including digital timestamps on every shot. And some of it is pretty clever, like the video feed from a bomb-sniffing robot. To make it work as a narrative, Rifkin throws in sound that less believable (despite the justification he offers in the commentary track) but easily forgiven; it’s not as if this is really some surveillance documentary. It’s just a high concept film with the lowest of ambitions: an expose of the grimiest depths of human activity, posing as objective while actually objectifying the subjects.

Look got a little added publicity when the US Postal Service refused to mail out one of his promotional postcards, but the tempest feels just as contrived as the film. Rifkin has a cynical view of human behavior and he plays it for cheap titillation and bleak humor, which is mean-spirited at best and glib at worst. There’s simply no insight to the bad behavior on display or to the human beings behind it. Look is content to simply watch how weak, mean, nasty, cruel, bullying, vindictive, deceitful and shallow human beings really are at heart. Especially shallow. And the film is just as shallow. My suggestion when it comes to Look is don’t.

The "censored" promotional postcard for the Look DVD release campaign

The "censored" promotional postcard for the Look DVD release campaign

The DVD features commentary by writer/director Adam Rifkin, producers Brad Wyman and Barry Schuler and actor Hayes MacArthur (if you didn’t get it, Rifkin explains that “The movie is about the things that people do when they think they aren’t being watched”) and the self-congratulatory 30-minute “A Look Behind The Scenes” featurette that revels in the “risk” taken in this conceptual approach but also chronicles the glitches in the production process. Also features 22 alternate/deleted scenes (including a Ron Jeremy cameo that didn’t make it into the film) and 13 minutes of outtakes where Rifkin ends up in the shot.

The DVD comes out May 5.

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