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Fierce People

Watch out for the WASPs, they Sting

The thing about films that open up in the fall is that any performance that demonstrates even the slightest bit of acting ability evokes an Oscar buzz. This is not to say that Diane Lane is sub par in her role as a junkie mother in director Griffin Dunne's Fierce People but that the entire movie is so bad that it overshadows all traces of talent.

It's 1980 and Lane plays Liz Earl (Diane Lane), a masseuse with a penchant for prostitution and a bad coke habit. You would think something like this would bother her 16-year old son Finn (Anton Yelchin). But in the universe of Fierce People, it's all just part of the package. There is no teenage angst here; just the lackadaisical milk bone reactions found in a "Leave it to Beaver" episode.

Because he gets busted buying coke for his mom, Finn ends up missing the chance to spend the summer with his father, a famous world-renowned anthropologist, in South America studying the Ishkanani (literally translated as "fierce people") tribe. Again, any other kid would have been pissed at this, but not Finn. He doesn't even really get angry when his mother suddenly drags him to Vlyvalle, New Jersey (i.e. the middle of nowhere) to stay at a cottage on the estate of Ogden C. Osborne (Donald Sutherland), her mysterious benefactor (read: sugar daddy) and the seventh richest man in the country.

In the completely unrealistic manner of the movie, Finn makes fast friends with Osborne's two über-privileged grandchildren, Bryce (Chris Evans) and Maya (Kristen Stewart), the slutty housekeeper and even Osborne himself despite the huge generational and class gaps between them. This doesn’t mean Finn, with his squeaky voice and jewfro, is in any way charming but that the movie's plot floats along a river of suspended belief.

To make the best of a "bad" situation, Finn decides to document the Osbornes much like his father does the Ishkanani, comparing the Amazonian tribe with the tribe of the rich and famous. However, it should be noted here that the term "document" should be taken loosely. All Finn does to this extent is keep a diary, watch his father's grainy research footage and insert annoying voiceovers that point out the obvious. Nonetheless, he discovers, in a traumatic and quite jolting dark turn, that there are not too many differences between the two.

Fierce People is not fierce. In fact it's quite the opposite. Based on the novel and adapted to the screen by Dirk Wittenborn, one wonders if there was something lost in the translation between book and script. The dialogue is flat and delivered just as stiffly. Watching the characters interact is like serving witness at an insipid cocktail party where people flit in and out of conversations and none of it means anything.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars