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The Distinct Smell of Red   C-

Malamute Entertainment

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Jason Kittelberger
Writers: Jason Kittelberger, Donna Strader
Cast: Guilford Adams, Robin Christian-McNair, Edi Patterson.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

The Distinct Smell of Red, a low-budget drama revolving around one man's quest to find his "Juliet," was shot in my hometown of Houston, Texas by local production company Malamute Entertainment. I really wanted to like this one. Honest. The filmmakers obviously have talent and potential, but this is a classic case of talented people creating a cinematic misfire. I wish I could give it a glowing review, but that's not going to happen.

The film focuses on a lonely guy named Vernon (Guilford Adams) who works in a flower shop. When he's not discovering literary classics for the first time through Cliffs Notes, he's following the shop owner Katherine (Robin Christian-McNair) around and asking her random and stupid questions like "What kind of underwear do you wear?" Inspired after reading the Cliffs Notes of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Vernon decides that he's going to invent his own fictional Juliet to get Katherine's attention. He starts telling Katherine stories about this wonderful girl named Juliet that he's dating, though this girl doesn't really exist. But after Vernon starts dating a shy, pretty female cab driver, he doesn't need the fantasy to get Katherine's attention -- he's got the real thing. But does Vernon still want Katherine once he has his "Juliet"?

Sounds promising, doesn't it? I thought so. But unlikable characters and an uneven and bewildering tone botch a decent premise. Vernon, who is in every single scene of the movie, is one of the most annoying characters ever captured on celluloid (well, maybe I'm exaggerating just a bit, but he really got on my nerves). At least his boss Katherine shares in my annoyance, as she puts up with Vernon acting like a child and moping around the flower shop asking stupid questions all day. Robin Christian-McNair, who's got some acting chops, isn't given much to do as Katherine other than act frustrated with Vernon. I kept wondering, Why doesn't she just fire the jackass? Christian-McNair's one-note performance quickly becomes tiresome, but she does the best she can with the material.

Guilford Adams can't do much with his role, either, but Vernon is such an irritating character that I doubt anyone could make him endearing. The only actor I can think of that might be able to make this annoying weirdo somewhat lovable is Giovanni Ribisi (Boiler Room, The Gift), but I digress. As it is, I really disliked Vernon. He's a pathological liar and a Peeping Tom who drinks away his loneliness in his drab apartment. He calls phone sex hotlines and pretends the operator is his Juliet (though this is before he meets the real Juliet). I was also never quite sure what Vernon really wanted -- did he want Katherine or Juliet? -- but I suspect Vernon himself was unsure about that. Aside from annoying me, Vernon disturbed me. After an argument with Katherine, Vernon goes outside and repeatedly bashes his head against a brick wall. Ouch. I kept waiting for Vernon to snap and start killing people.

Perhaps the only cast member who comes out unscathed in The Distinct Smell of Red is Edi Patterson as Juliet. Patterson is really good here, projecting her character's uncertain shyness with a realism and honesty that's pretty darn adorable. She's the only character in the movie I gave a damn about, but it's a shame the movie itself didn't seem to care all that much about her.

For all its faults, The Distinct Smell of Red isn't all that bad. There are some good lines of dialogue here and there (but there are also some clunkers). I think Jason Kittelberger shows tremendous promise as a director, and I'd love to see what he could do with a better script. The film is well-photographed and looks and sounds great. This is a well-made independent film, there's no doubt about that, and the filmmakers should be commended for the quality of the technical aspects of the film. But this only makes it all the more disheartening that it falters in other areas. At times, it feels like it's trying to be a sweet romantic comedy, while at other times a darker side emerges, making The Distinct Smell of Red an oddly uneven experience. Oh, well. I think I would have liked it more if Vernon had flipped out and started killing people.

Review published 04.11.2001.

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