The ennui of high-schoolers is a universal problem--a rite of passage almost--but it's usually a harmless one. In the case of the high school students at Westlake Prep a posh private school it turns into a deadly game. Owen (Julian Morris) is a transfer student from England and has a history of acting out. Once ensconced on campus it doesn't take him long to find a clique and revert to his old ways. Owen and his friends play a game in which they spread an online rumor that a serial killer called "The Wolf" is responsible for a recent on-campus murder and is set to strike again. Many of the aforementioned twists are revealed via AOL "Instant Messenger " which is suppose to be topical. By describing the killer's next victims they try to see how many students they can scare. But when the victims actually start to (seemingly) turn up dead--by the group's predicted methods of murder no less--Owen fears the game has turned real and deadly. Now this little clique that once sauntered about aimlessly and innocently in their debonair little uniforms begin to question one another.
Cry Wolf employs a bunch of unknowns to play the Westlake students and they all more than hold their own against Jon Bon Jovi. Yes that Bon Jovi. He plays Rich Walker aka Mr. Walker the schoolteacher who threatens to expose Owen's plans although Owen thinks he's up to much more than that. The rocker's trademark pearly whites are hard to not notice but he does display a surprising acting ability. It isn't like this is his first time you know. He did play the hunky painter in Moonlight and Valentino so at least he knows his way around a camera. As far as the lead relative newcomer Morris is the real revelation in an otherwise standard horror flick. He has a face that's recognizable--even if you don't know who he is--and an ability to make the nonsense he utters seem somehow believable. As his cohort Lindy Booth (Dawn of the Dead) plays Owen's female equivalent Dodger who turns out to be his ultimate arch-nemesis. But she suffers from something that happens when 26-year-olds are cast as 18-year-olds--she's wise beyond her years. Of course it's not her fault and she plays her conniving character with surprising proficiency. It just doesn't fit in with the rest of the milieu.
Cry Wolf marks Jeff Wadlow's major motion picture debut as a writer and a director. So that's two strikes against him already. Wadlow pulls out as many twists and thriller clichés as possible and in the process sends everyone spinning in circles including the audience. Of course playing with the whole "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" theme is interesting but the film repeatedly comes up with one cop-out surprise after another. If Wadlow can't write a character out of a major jam or implausibility he just compounds the problem by further perpetuating the illogical spin or simply concocting a whole new one which makes audiences "ooh" and "ah" for all the wrong reasons. Plus his writing style while appropriate for maybe a grown-up whodunit makes the "teenagers" too highfalutin as if they're reciting Shakespeare instead of just talking like well teenagers. High-school students don't muse with such rumination and clarity not even British ones. Cry Wolf should have just gone straight to video. At least then it might have had a chance with a cult following.
Luke (Steven Strait) and Brier (Pell James) first cross paths on a New York City subway before the doors shut on their instant attraction to one another. Of course it is immediately and abundantly clear that they will naturally meet up again before long but where and how? The answers: L.A. and well it's complicated. Each having forgotten about the other Brier a top model in NYC decides she needs a change of scenery and tells her agent (Carrie Fisher clearly in it for the paycheck) she's heading out to L.A. to pursue acting while Luke and his brother Euan (Kip Pardue) decide to move to the West Coast as well. Once there Brier befriends Clea (Ashlee Simpson) and on her first night in town takes Brier to a local dive bar where Luke works as a struggling "musician." Wow that's some coincidence. There is an instant re-connection between Luke and Brier but she refuses to get involved with musicians since her rock-star ex mistreated her. Instead she shifts her focus on generating buzz for Luke. Eventually Luke gets the big recording contract becomes the rock-star jerk he'd swore he'd never become and loses it all. But all is well when Brier decides she can no longer resist Luke's ballads and Metallica-guitarist-circa-'85 hair.
The theme of Undiscovered could apply to its cast. Each of the four leads are on the cusp of being on the cusp and certainly they hope this movie will take them one step closer. For James that might happen. She is a natural on screen and gives a breakthrough performance as the comely Brier. Strait is also a relative newcomer. After turning his debut performance in this summer's Sky High he holds his own in Undiscovered but seems to be relegated to taking his shirt off to make the teenyboppers swoon. Finally there's Simpson who is also making her major-role debut. It's awkward to see her on-screen and yes subconsciously you wait for her to make a noticeable mistake (or butcher a voice-over due to acid reflux). Of course it doesn't happen; she moves along pretty smoothly but is at times subjected to dialogue that seems beyond her especially when she has to words big words such as "banter." And certainly it's not her fault when she describes Luke--a musician best left struggling--as "a cross between Jeff Buckley and Elvis Costello." That's just someone else's words she reciting.
Prolific music-video director Meiert Avis is making his feature film directorial debut with Undiscovered--and his obvious greenness shows. At times the film is more like a music video surrounded by a weak storyline than a cohesive film. His expertise in the rather linear realm of music videos doesn't exactly qualify him for the complexities of a 90-minute film contrived and straightforward as his debut may be. Avis tries to employ every possible clichéd obstacle for the characters to overcome--which reeks of inexperience but could also be the screenwriter's fault. No doubt Avis feels at home with newcomers such as Strait and Simpson who--for all intents and purposes--sing and act but the plethora of singing scenes feel forced. That is forced into the script to showcase the soundtrack when the movie goes undiscovered at the box office.
A formulaic dramedy till the end Heroes is equal thirds Igby Goes Down Life as a House and a sub-par hybrid of the two. The Travis family is desperately trying to cope with the recent suicide of their budding swimming-star son Matt (Kip Pardue). But it's all in vain: Matt's sister Penny (Michelle Williams) is away at college seemingly aloof from the whole situation; Matt's father Ben (Jeff Daniels) is supposedly on leave from work but he spends his days on a bench in a catatonic state; Matt's kid brother Tim (Emile Hirsch) is well up to no good and feeling alienated from everything and everyone; and Matt's mother Sandy (Weaver) is left to try and hold the family together even though she is crumbling from the same reasons the others are. But thanks to her newfound affinity for marijuana Sandy's able to take the crises with a grain of pot er salt as it were. Central to the story is the unusual closeness between Sandy and Tim who are disenchanted with life and relationships. And nobody really gets along with Tim or understands him for that matter. Ultimately Tim's introspection and beating to his own drum help to right the ship but it does not come without the usual bumps on the tearjerker road: drugs fights arrests and heart-tugging illness.
The cast--and family--is led by the always-reliable Weaver. She does justice to her role as Sandy the straight-shooting pot-smoking neo-mom. The last time Weaver donned the maternal hat was in 2002's Tadpole for which she also received rave reviews. In that movie however she was actually a stepmother and lest we forget the incestuous undertones between her and her stepson played eerily well by Aaron Stanford. After Weaver's Sandy there is a noticeable drop-off in the acting but that's only a testament to her own strong performance. Hirsch (The Girl Next Door) proves that he probably has a nice future ahead even if it means merely taking roles on which the seemingly ubiquitous Shia LaBeouf passes. He brings a refreshing sense of urgent angst to an otherwise trite role in contemporary film. Rounding out the core cast is Daniels who spends about as much time on-screen as he does with his family in the film: very little. The role of deadbeat-dad Ben seems to find him well but he (shockingly!) reemerges as Family Man and defuses the tensions between the Travises most notably between him and Tim.
Writer/director Dan Harris is anything but a household name at this point in his young career--the same goes for this film his directorial debut--but to the surprise of most he has amassed quite a box office track record. Case in point: After working his way up with relatively menial jobs behind the scenes of typical Hollywood fare from 1998 to 2003 Harris penned X2: X-Men United which would go on to earn $215 million. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that he landed the coveted but no less difficult task of writing the screenplay for one of the most highly anticipated films (by moviegoers and producers alike) of 2006: Superman Returns directed by his X2 director Bryan Singer. These credentials afforded Harris the opportunity to take on a small dramatic labor of love like Heroes. Harris' hit-or-miss jokes throughout the film littered between grave family dilemmas allude to his theme of comedy in times of crisis. As a writer he evokes an Anytown suburbia fraught with misbehaving teenagers dark secrets between neighbors and problems and rebellion within the families to suggest that it happens all the time. As a rookie director he simply shows the ability to get the best he can from his actors--nothing less but unfortunately nothing more either. Harris shows enough promise to probably cement a future as a go-to guy for heavy dramas. But he'll be hard-pressed to find the time as his writing career flourishes with impending blockbuster franchises.