Late one night on his way home from work John falls asleep at the wheel and hits a man that is walking in the road. He takes the body home, fully intending to hide the body and cover up the incident when the unthinkable occurs. The man he hit wakes up. And now John must decide how far he is willing to go to protect his secret.
It’s a fact of life and a fact of wordplay. The term “suburban” or any of its derivatives automatically conjure such synonyms as “bland”, “less than” or “vanilla”. And, in this case, the film Suburbanite – while admittedly boasting a few good things – is as “vanilla” as they come.
Everyday family man John’s (Joe Nemmers) life takes a dangerous and strange turn when he falls asleep at the wheel and accidentally hits a drunk man with his car late one night. Rather than contact the authorities, he panics and places the (assumed) dead drunk man into this trunk and takes him home – apparently intending to cover up the crime. He parks in his garage – unsure of what step to next take. He soon learns that the man is not dead, just dying and mostly immobile. They begin a dialogue, including the revelation (the audience learns this in the opening moments of the film) that Mack (the drunk man played by Jodie Moore — of last year’s Maggie) – just prior to being hit by John – hired a hitman to off his ex-wife. Thing is, Hitman Rick (Frank Mosley) and his associate Bob (Max Hartman) are now looking for Mack and they eventually track him to John’s garage – making John’s predicament more difficult and dangerous.
The two lead performances (Nemmers and Moore) are the best thing about Suburbanite. While they don’t hit every note right on (the soliloquies from Nemmers as he debates his next move alone in his kitchen are not good), overall these two actors have a good chemistry. Of particular note is the work of Moore as Mack. His introductory scene with Hitman Rick is believable and impressive. You can see the uncertainty and debate still swirling around in his head, “Is this the right thing to do?” Later, as things ramp up at the garage, Mack’s physical limitations and injuries (although in the writing and direction, not as realistic as they should have been for such a massive blow to his body) allow Moore to genuinely inhabit Mack’s pain. His constant grunting, squinting and wheezing will make you feel his painful struggle.
As for the supporting cast, they were sorely lacking. As John’s wife Sylvia, Susana Gibb is able to sell the suburban soccer mom well enough, but when she is required to feign jeopardy and pain later in the film, her supporting performance falls apart.
As Hitman Rick, Frank Mosley was over-the-top and irritating. But in his defense, the character was poorly written and a cliché from the moment he appeared. The dialogue he was given just didn’t ring true, and it was never quite clear whether he was supposed to be funny (see below for more on that complaint).
Which brings me to this… as for the script as a whole, it doesn’t work. Aside from plausibility issues, the dialogue felt wordy. As for Hitman Rick, it seemed as if there may have been an internal and unresolved fight (within writer/director Andy Lohrenz) with how to portray this character. Had the film gone in that more tongue-in-cheek direction and made the proceedings a little more humorous (it seemed like it wanted to at times – see the banter between Hitman Rick and his associate Bob) and not taken itself so seriously – the final outcome might well have been more worthwhile. Suburbanite felt disjointed and unsure of itself.
Also, there were far too many times I found myself straining to believe this scenario. At one point, the horribly crippled Mack is left with his cell phone (up until then he was denied it by John, who was afraid he would call the police), but doesn’t actually do anything with it. Mack doesn’t know John, so where would this weird trust come in? This shaky bond the two men forge never feels authentic. As I mentioned above, their acting chemistry is definitely solid, but the things their characters are made to do and to say, simply don’t add up when comparing them to good old common sense.
And with absolutely no history of John, it stretches us too far – that he would be a party to such things as a hit-n-run or an attempt to cover up a crime. According to the script, all of this was done to save face and to save his family – but that isn’t enough for me to go along with his actions. Had we just found out that he lost his job, or that he had a prior drunk driving record – something – it may well have made John’s actions (and inactions) more plausible. Based on what we’re given, there’s no reason that I wouldn’t see John doing the lawful thing – right off the bat. Of course, then we’d have no film.
But there was never any urgency in the film either. It got off to a solid and intriguing start, but once the two men were contained in the garage, it failed to take off.
There’s some nice camera work throughout. I appreciated the lighting in the garage, and you really got to understand the space’s dimensions and corners. One particular shot had me nodding my head in appreciation – in the foreground was a tied and gagged Mack, and in the far background, the garage door. The center was filled with the parked car, a pinball machine and any number of other garage-accoutrements – lovely details and impressive dimension.
I really enjoyed the song choices as well. They’re all relative unknown artists, but perfectly suited to what was happening on the screen. The best song: “Que Serah” by The Family Piano.
But, when it all comes down to it, two decent lead performances and good camerawork simply can’t keep Suburbanite far from its vanilla namesake.
Suburbanite is now available on DVD/VOD.