American Hero (2015) / Drama-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for strong language, sexual references, and some violence
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Eddie Griffin, Yohance Myles, Christopher Berry, Keena Ferguson, Luis Da Silva Sr.
Director: Nick Love
Screenplay: Nick Love
Review published December 13, 2015
Misleadingly marketed as some sort of superhero movie, American Hero is more a drama about a man who has screwed up his marriage due to his abuse of drugs, alcohol and womanizing, to the point where his ex-wife has been granted a restraining order against the deadbeat father, causing him to lose all visitation rights to see his young son. Oh, and this troubled man also has telekinetic powers for reasons that are never explained.
Stephen Dorff (Immortals, Public Enemies) stars as Melvin, a ne'er-do-well living in New Orleans who regularly parties to take his mind off of his self-inflicted inner pain, but it only makes things worse, especially as he's been having some heart problems of late due to his overzealous hedonism. He uses his telekinetic powers to earn a few bucks in street performances, as well as to make things easier at a car wreckage facility, but doesn't earn nearly enough to live away from his mother's house. Some of his associates suggest he use his gift to do good, and given that his son Rex is growing up in an area that has a great deal of drugs and violent crime, he makes a commitment to clean up the streets, but first, he'll have to clean up himself.
American Hero is written and directed by British filmmaker Nick Love (The Football Factory, The Sweeney), who shoots his film with the look of a well-made documentary, and even has the characters talk to the camera on occasion, though it's never explained why Melvin or his best bud, a wheelchair using war vet named Lucille (Griffin, Norbit), have a crew of camera operators following them around. It's also not explained why Melvin, who has been lobbying hard for visitation rights for his young son, would let them film all of his illegal activities and reckless behavior, or why no one else points out there there is a camera crew in the room, also filming them too. One would think that this would be a big deal for the cokeheads attending Melvin's parties, or for the drug dealers who hang out in a parking lot in the rough side of town that Melvin occasionally visits.
Another issue is that of the character of Melvin himself, who seems clueless about what he really wants in life. He seems to be well read, enjoying classic literature that speaks profoundly to the soul, and also connects resonantly with the classical music he plays in his car, and yet he lives a life of someone who doesn't seem to care very much about anything, or does anything very deeply besides feed his own addictions. Just as we don't know why this film is staged as a documentary, so too are we equally perplexed as to what, if anything, the superpower angle has to do with the film save to tie it in with a hot box office trend.
Some viewers will find that American Hero is a bit reminiscent of Chronicle in its faux doc approach to an everyday guy who uses his powers without becoming a costumed vigilante, though, like Will Smith's Hancock, his day-to-day problems don't go away just because he has a superhuman ability. It blends state-of-the-art special effects into the hand-held camera footage, and along those lines, it's pretty impressive for a lower budget effort, even if this is not an effects dominated film.
Somewhere in here there seems to be a story about just what a hero is. It's not about the powers, but rather, what one does in life, with powers or not, that makes him a hero. There's a metaphor here, I think, about how people always have the ability to make a positive difference in their lives, as well as in the lives of others, but it can often be squandered through living a life of selfishness and disregard. There also seems to be something in there about the American ideals; the film has the word American in its title, allusions to its war veterans, and also plenty of American flags on display, but doesn't quite make the connection as to what makes Melvin's story distinctly American.
While it's handsomely filmed, adequately acted, and features a good sense of characterizations and a nice use of score, the problems stem mostly from the story never taking much shape into anything, leaving American Hero seeming very much like its protagonist: full of impressive talent, but too aimless to do much with it.
©2015 Vince Leo