The Roommate

Screen Gems

Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, menacing, violence and teen partying.

Danish Director Makes Dubious Debut with Brazen Rip-Off Of Psychological Thriller

Single White Female (1992) was an intriguing psychological thriller revolving around a young woman’s unhealthy attempt to ingratiate herself with her new roommate to the exclusion of all others. Her increasingly-bizarre behavior gradually escalated over the course of the film from dressing alike and adopting the same hobbies to killing their pet puppy and sabotaging the object of her obsession’s romantic relationship.

Ultimately, the disturbing compulsion was attributed to the deranged psycho’s having witnessed her identical twin’s drowning when they were nine. So, this belated attempt to bond so closely with a perfect stranger was explained as a perverted desire to recreate the closeness she had formerly felt with her late sibling.

The reason for such a detailed digression at the outset of this review is because The Roommate is a brazen rip-off of Single White Female, and a god-awful one at that. The movie marks the English-language directorial debut of Christian Christiansen whose previous offerings were all in his native Danish. And screenwriter Sonny Mallhi inexplicably takes all the credit for the script despite an abundance of similarities to the aforementioned SWF.

Instead of being set in New York City’s fashion world, the story unfolds in L.A. where we find freshman Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly) making a smooth adjustment to college life, especially in terms of flirting and partying. The attractive fashion major from the Midwest is already dating a popular upperclassman (Cam Gigandet) and turning the head of a well-connected professor (Billy Zane) she wants as a mentor. And although under 21, she’s able to get into bars without proof simply because she’s “hot.”

The fly in the fun ointment is her profoundly-disturbed roommate, Rebecca (Leighton Meester), a one-woman wrecking crew who chillingly announces “I always wanted a sister” upon learning that Sara’s twin had died at, you guessed it, the age of 9. So, with manic abandon, Rebecca proceeds to monopolize Sara’s time while embarking on a transparent reign of terror aimed at ruining all of the poor girl’s relationships, whether that involves telling a suitor never to call Sara again, killing her cat, Cuddles, or ripping a ring right out of the belly of her best friend, Tracy (Alyson Michalka).

As if the purloined plot isn’t infuriating enough, proving far more problematical than the thinly veiled plagiarism is the atrocious acting, the slapdash editing, the absence of character development and the cringe-inducing dialogue. Who wants to have their patience tested by trite poster-speak like “The best designers push the boundaries!” especially when it’s delivered with an utter lack of conviction?

Still, the film’s biggest flaw of all is its failure to generate any tension, since a suspense thriller sans the element of suspense is apt to disappoint even an audience arriving with low expectations. Don’t be surprised if you’re the only person left in the theater when the lights come up, if you fail to heed this warning.

Poor (0 stars).

Running time: 93 Minutes

Skin

Entertainment One

Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality and mature themes.

White Woman Gives Birth to Black Babies in Factual South African Saga

Until 1994, South Africa’s system of Apartheid forbade people of different “races” to use the same stores, to attend the same schools or to reside under the same roof. Those oppressive segregation laws came to rip an Afrikaner family apart after the wife gave birth to a baby with dark skin and nappy hair in 1955.

Abraham (Sam Neill) and Sannie Laing (Alice Krige) raised a lot of eyebrows when they brought a brown newborn back from the hospital. While some neighbors suspected that the wife must have cheated, doctors did a blood test, which determined that Abraham was in fact the father.

So, the couple had young Sandra (Sophie Okonedo) declared officially white and did their best to raise her in their lily white neighborhood. But as soon as she started school, the little girl was teased by her classmates and even beaten by teachers until complaints from other parents about the “kaffir” on campus forced the principal to expel Sandra. And when the authorities subsequently reclassified their daughter as “coloured,” the Laings had to register her as a domestic servant just so that she could live at home legally.

This real-life nightmare is the subject of Skin, a heartbreaking biopic based on Judith Stone’s best seller When She Was White: The True Story of a Family Divided by Race. Adapted to the screen by Anthony Fabian, the picture effectively exposes the silliness of arbitrary groupings based on skin color.

Unfortunately, Apartheid really did exist, and the case of the Laings turned terribly tragic, since Sandra ended up estranged from her parents by the age of 15. Pregnant, she ran away from home to live on the other side of the proverbial tracks, in a black township with a married man. There, she proceeded to make a series of self-destructive choices, bearing numerous children out of wedlock she had to surrender to foster care.

Penniless, she attempted to reconcile with her folks, only to be told by her mother never to call or visit again. A frightening primer on how untreated racism can make lead someone to abandon, even hate their own offspring.

Excellent (4 stars).

Running time: 107 minutes

DVD Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes, script development workshops, and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

by Kam Williams

For movies opening February 11, 2011

BIG BUDGET FILMS

Gnomeo And Juliet (G). Animated Disney update of the Shakespeare classic as a tale of forbidden love between a couple of star-crossed lawn ornaments (James McAvoy and Emily Blunt) from feuding families. Featuring voiceovers by Jason Statham, Michael Caine, Ozzy Ozbourne, Hulk Hogan and Dolly Parton, with songs by Lady Gaga and Sir Elton John.

Just Go With It (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, partial nudity, drug references and pervasive crude humor). Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston co-star in this romantic comedy about a plastic surgeon who asks his assistant to pose as his estranged wife in order to convince his young girlfriend (Brooklyn Decker) that he’s really married. Ensemble cast includes Nicole Kidman, Dave Matthews, Kevin Nealon, Heidi Montag, Rachel Dratch and Dan Patrick.

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (G) Concert flick featuring performances from the teeny-bop singing sensation’s 2010 “My World Tour” interspliced with footage from his childhood home movies.

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

Carancho (Unrated). Argentine romance drama set in Buenos Aires, and revolving around an ambulance-chasing attorney (Ricardo Darin) who falls in love with the idealistic young doctor (Martina Gusman) who’s trying to save the life of a patient he wants as a client. With Carlos Weber, Jose Luis Arias and Loren Acuna. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Carbon Nation (Unrated). Eco-documentary suggesting an array of solutions for averting the impending, disastrous consequences of climate change. With appearances by ex-Obama Administration Green Czar Van Jones, Virgin Atlantic CEO Richard Branson and former CIA Director James Woolsey.

Cedar Rapids (R for sexuality, vulgarity, profanity and drug use). Raunchy buddy comedy about a repressed insurance salesman (Ed Helms) who turns a new leaf at a convention in Iowa where he is pressured to loosen up by a couple of party animals (John C. Reilly and Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) and a seductive colleague (Anne Heche). With Stephen Root and Rob Corddry.

Certifiably Jonathan (Unrated). Reverential retrospective on the life and times of rubber-faced comedian Jonathan Winters includes B&W footage of classic performances, tributes by colleagues like Robin Williams, Robert Klein, Rob Reiner, Jimmy Kimmel, Tim Conway and Sarah Silverman, plus coverage of the versatile septuagenarian’s second career as an artist.

The Eagle (PG-13 for battle sequences and disturbing sequences). Historical epoch, set in 140 A.D., revolving around the arrival of a young Roman centurion (Channing Tatum) sent to England with a slave (Jamie Bell) by Marcus Aurelius to recover the emblem of the Ninth Legion which had mysteriously disappeared into thin air 20 years earlier under the leadership of his late father (Aladar Lakloth). Cast includes Donald Sutherland, Paul Ritter and Denis O’Hare.

Lovers Of Hate (Unrated). Sibling rivalry comedy about a best-selling author (Alex Karpovsky) of children’s novels who steals the wife (Heather Kafka) of his older brother, a struggling writer reduced to living in his car. With Zach Green, Dan Brown and Harper Cummings.

Mooz-Lum (PG-13 for violence and mature themes). Dysfunctional family drama about a devout Muslim-American (Roger Guenveur Smith) who emotionally alienates his wife (Nia Long) and kids (Evan Ross and Kimberley Drummond) by forcing them to follow orthodox religious practices and dress codes. With Danny Glover, Dorian Missick and Summer Bishil.

Orgasm Inc. (Unrated). Shocking expose’ about the pharmaceutical industry’s rush to put a Female Sexual Dysfunction drug on the market for the sake of a billion-dollar payday, in spite of evidence of potentially-dangerous side effects.

Poetry (Unrated). Deliberately-paced drama about an aging woman’s (Jeong-hie Yun) agonizing over her 16 year-old grandson’s (Da-wit Lee) participation in a gang rape of a classmate which led to the victim’s suicide. With Nae-sang Ahn, Hira Kim and Yong-taek Kim. (In Korean with subtitles)

The Sky Turns (Unrated). Return to roots documentary chronicling a year in the life of the colorful local yokels in director Mercedes Alvarez’s hometown of Aldealseñor, a bucolic village in rural Spain with a dwindling population of just 46. (In Spanish with subtitles.)

Vidal Sassoon: The Movie (Unrated). Biopic chronicling the rise of the hair care mogul from his humble roots in a London orphanage for Jews to celebrated ‘60s salon icon.

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