Slaves to the Underground

on November 14, 1997 by Ian Hodder
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   An attempted documentation of slacker-style hipness, "Slaves to the Underground" taps into several topics it considers trendy: bisexuality, grunge music, living in squalor, Seattle, and 'zines. The fatal problem, of course, with a supposedly cutting-edge film that appropriates the above as a definition of what's hot is that it's hopelessly out of date. As twentysomething Seattleites know, Gen-X has been there, done that.
   Between trends of yesteryear, "Slaves" traces a love triangle between selfish Shelly (Molly Gross), wimpy Jimmy (Jason Bortz), and politically active Suzy (Marisa Ryan). Shelly and Suzy are lovers and musicians in the same all-girl band. Their self-conscious bliss is thrown for a loop when, one night at a gig, Shelly bumps into ex-boyfriend Jimmy and promptly reignites their affair. While Jimmy and Suzy battle over Molly, side plots explore the band's growing popularity and Jimmy's professional struggle between publishing his underground comic and getting a real job. Well-crafted characters and solid direction could have rescued "Slaves" from the chains of sub-mediocrity.
   Alas, such time-tested qualities are apparently no longer in vogue. The movie is shot as a faux documentary--with jerky filming and characters talking directly to the camera--and the technique is indeed appropriate to film's investigative flavor. The downside is that director Kristine Peterson uses cinema verite as an excuse for cinematic sloppiness. Too many scenes are poorly planned and left to the often bewildered actors to steer the action. Acting, too, ranges from cringe-inducing to satisfactory, with Ryan delivering the only semi-watchable performance. To top it all off, "Slaves" employs some pretty dorky music (specifically, an excruciating ditty titled "Let's F---") whenever character development or pacing begins to sag. The result is a self-important, humorless wallow that might have made a great 'zine--seven years ago.    Starring Molly Gross, Marisa Ryan and Jason Bortz. Directed by Kristine Peterson. Written by Bill Cody. Produced by Kristine Peterson, Bill Cody and Raquel Caballes Maxwell. A First Look release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexuality and language. Running time: 93 min. Screened at the Women in Cinema Festival, Seattle.
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