Kalamity is a real klunker. In his third feature, James M. Hausler offers a plodding, pretentious thriller about two late-twenties pals from suburban Virginia who've discovered that being an adult male isn't easy; in particular, keeping your emotions in check when dealing with the opposite sex. It's a tribute to somebody's powers of persuasion that the ill-conceived and awkwardly presented work didn't go straight to video. Kalamity will try to scare up eyeballs in one New York and one LA venue before slipping into oblivion.
In his director's statement, Hausler, who also penned the screenplay, unabashedly admits he's made "a mystery without a mystery." Kalamity lacks other qualities as well. Stilted dialogue, wooden acting and a featureless fog of suburban malaise aren't among them. One of his bigger mistakes was deciding to play peek-a-boo with the narrative structure through the pedestrian use of flashbacks and other hackneyed storytelling tools. And not showing the potentially exciting bits -- four cold-blooded murders -- only compounds the problem. What he chooses to leave in is lackluster at best; it'd be calamitous in some universe, just not the tepid one he envisions.
After parting ways in Ohio with his girlfriend of five years, Billy Klepack (Nick Stahl) moves back in with his parents and elementary school-age sister in Northern Virginia. He discovers that his best friend, Stanley Keller (Jonathan Jackson), who works as a salesman in a strip-mall audio shop, has grown bitter and angry. Evidently, Stan's former girlfriend, Ashley (Alona Tal), has turned him into an A-1 misogynist, a belligerent if charming-when-need-be bloke incapable of containing his hate for all womankind. Of course, it's more likely he's been that way all along.
Hausler doesn't provide a foundation or background for the central friendship other than vague intimations that Billy and Stan are two sides of the same contemporary male coin. (Hints of a doppelganger switch or multiple personality twist don't materialize.) Both men are obsessed, yet in opposite ways. Heartbroken Billy is the sensitive type who mopes around spouting anodyne epigrams about life, frequently drifting off into sentimental reveries during which he imagines his ex, Alice (Beau Garrett), by his side. Stan is unstable and prone to violent outbursts. You can't say the name Ashley lest his peach fuzz bristles and his eyes widen with vulpine rage.
Though it hardly matters, we don't learn exactly why their respective girlfriends dumped them (or what they saw in them in the first place), but it's tempting to fill in the blanks. In short, they're a pair of flakes. Then again, anybody would come off that way when uttering lines like "People are really sad. There's nothing you can do about it," "Communicate motherfucker!" and the choice puzzler "I feel like a six pack at a construction site."
Arguably, the strangest thing in Kalamity is Stan's roommate and colleague Christian (Christopher M. Clark), a nerdy naïf who gives off a homoerotic vibe as he's being pushed around by Stan. Apparently, there are only three modes of masculinity: homicidal maniac, indecisive emo or latent same-sexer. (Billy's Ward Cleaver father, embodied by Robert Forster, appears too briefly to qualify.) When Ashley goes missing, Billy and Christian grow suspicious and do some sleuthing. Then, after claiming he's going to Vegas for a trade show, Stan travels to Ohio and looks up Alice, motivated by some Strangers on a Train bargain that's only real inside his half-deranged mind. The more pressing issue: Where are the cops? Why don't they question Stan about Ashley's disappearance? For that matter, where in Kalamity's confused male miasma is someone representing reason or coherence?
Stahl seems to be playing a less charismatic, more sad-eyed and yet still viable version of his In the Bedroom character. Jackson falls woefully short of being as menacing as Stahl was in Bully; his stabs at projecting menacing hostility and psychopathic volatility are more laughable than frightening. It must be said, their writer/director is no help to them. Headaches and shiny objects trigger Stan's brutal episodes, after which he weeps like a baby. With the exception of odd but at least unpredictable music choices, the tech credits are forgettable and half-hearted. For example, Hausler's attempt to make telling use of the color red is weak indeed.
Billy's voice-over summation captures the essence of sitting through Kalamity. "But it's experience that makes us who we are [long pause] and how we process pain that defines us." Color me in agony.
Distributor: Screen Media
Cast: Nick Stahl, Jonathan Jackson, Christopher M. Clark, Beau Garrett, Robert Forster, Alona Tal, Patricia Kalember and Sammi Hanratty
Director/Screenwriter: James. M. Hausler
Producer: Juliana Penaranda-Loftus
Rating: R for pervasive language including sexual references, and some violent content.
Running time: 100 min
Release date: October 22 ltd.