Broken Vessels

on September 15, 1998 by Luisa F. Ribeiro
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Addiction, co-dependence and degeneracy have long been the stuff of life in Los Angeles and the movies about it, so anyone having another go at it better turn up something pretty darned fresh. Writer-director Scott Ziehl's debut, "Broken Vessels," makes a try in that general direction, but falls prey to amateurish direction and a shockingly hackneyed script in which every plot point broadcasts its approach from miles away or sinks into sheer implausibility.
Recen t college grad Tom (Jason London, all wide-eyed gullibility) comes to L.A. from Pennsylvania looking to take his life in different directions. He plunges right into the unknown by snagging a minimum wage job as partner to paramedic ambulance driver Jimmy (Todd Field), a laconic loner who ominously advises Tom to simply go along with him. Tom learns pretty quickly that "going along" means accepting a steady diet of hard drugs, sex and booze in between cleaning up car accident victims, domestic abuse cases and seniors with imaginary heart attacks. Initially horrified by Jimmy's rash behavior, Tom holds out--momentarily--before joining in the shenanigans with gusto, eventually accepting even petty larceny on the side to support their growing habit. After Tom moves in with Jimmy, their day job is all but forgotten in their quest for bigger and longer highs.
The dynamics inherent in setting the story in the tension-filled L.A. streets patrolled by paramedics offers great potential, little of which Ziehl exploits. The story begins strongly with the inexperienced Tom thrown into the world of the cool and controlled Jimmy and explosive Angelenos. But Ziehl quickly allows the action to drift away to endless shots of smoking, sniffing and sexing with little sense of threat from the outside world. Even the inevitable doom of the scenario rings hollow and, worse, feels utterly contrived. What drives Jimmy or Tom remains mostly absent and the somewhat feeble explanations offered near the end of the film are far too little, too late. Starring Todd Field and Jason London. Directed by Scott Ziehl. Written by David Baer, John McMahon and Scott Ziehl. Produced by Roxana Zal and Scott Ziehl. A Zeitgeist release. Drama. Rated R for strong and continuous drug use, language, sexuality and violence. Running time: 91 min.
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