“America is not a young land; it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil is there waiting.” That’s the William S. Burroughs quote that opens Jay Alaimo‘s “Chlorine” but not before we get a close-up of a moustached nose taking a bump of coke to the sounds of uplifting violins on the soundtrack. Quick flashes of some of the major characters clearly hating their lives appear in rapid succession and everything fades to white to reveal Burroughs’ quote on evil. But thanks to what precedes and follows those ominously serious words, it’s clear that the quote is only an additional ingredient to the stir-fry of energy that Alaimo’s message is part of. As Vincent D’Onofrio‘s Roger bumbles around in a bookstore looking at a nudie magazine, Tijuana Panther‘s “Redheaded Girl” kicks in as a reminder that you’re about to watch an hour and a half of light and charming comedy. Not that there’s nothing else to take away from this breezy hodgepodge, which smooths out the surface of the American dream with rough sandpaper until the ugliness underneath is revealed.
The mosaic of characters tips its hat to the Robert Altman spirit of interwoven storylines, never pretending to reach the same artistic heights. Roger (D’Onofrio) has been working the same job for the past 20 years and has always been passed over for a promotion. His wife Georgie (Kyra Sedgwick) has never worked a day in her life and is feeling restless as her daily tequila count continues to rise and aspirations of motorbike racing become more of a reality, much to the gossiping amusement of her girlfriends. Their son Henry (Ryan Donowho) is your typical brooding teenager who reads “The Art Of War” and waxes historical during dinner. Their younger daughter Cynthia (Flora Cross) is entering womanhood and feeling completely misunderstood by her preoccupied parents. All of the other supporting characters revolve around this family, whose surname is delightfully symbolic considering the events that transpire in the film. But one of Alaimo’s strengths is not hammering the motifs into your head and the play on the surname is a great case in point; it’s not revealed until the very end and even then, not through dialogue. The film’s title is another great example of this clever and subtle symbolism. A swimming pool is featured, we see chlorine poured into it and an incident calls to it but these moments are carefully spread out and never flashy.
Roger and Georgie’s friends Doug (Jordan Belfi) and Katherine (Elisabeth Rohm) are an excessively rich, young and arrogant couple who pit themselves on top of the social ladder in the small New England community of Copper Canyon. Both Doug and Katherine make sure to mention that Roger should consider investing in Copper Canyon Estates, an real-estate investment deal that’s been set up by Doug and Roger’s boss at the bank. Meanwhile, Roger’s good friend Patrick (Rhys Corio) is sick of being a tennis coach and wants to invest his savings somewhere solid. Roger, feeling backed into a corner by his demanding wife and his douche-bag of a boss, puts two and two together and does something extremely risky. By the way, the moustache that was snorting all that coke in the beginning? That was Patrick, whom we are properly introduced to as the camera slowly pans away from his coke-stained moustache. This is the sort of fun that Alaimo has. While the list of characters doesn’t even stop there and feels a tad much, the humour that’s found in the dialogue, the performances and unspoken moments like Patrick’s introduction keeps the picture anchored in and makes for an enjoyable ride.
There’s something wonderful in seeing Vincent D’Onofrio, the mastermind detective with OCD from TV’s “Law And Order: Criminal Intent” and deranged serial killer Carl Stargher from 2000’s “The Cell,” playing a bumbling shmuck who is desperately trying to keep things together. His moments of bottled up rage are worth your time alone. Sedgwick is clearly having a blast as the boozing and incompetent mother who loves to push her husband’s buttons and Belfi plays the smug Doug as the classic jerk you love to hate the moment you see him but if there’s a standout from the crowded cast it’s Corio. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, then you’ll probably remember him most as Billy, the demanding director from hell in HBO‘s “Entourage” and every time he’s on screen in “Chlorine,” he’s hilarious. It’s hard to imagine anyone else saying “I pulled out and glazed your back, that’s my style! It’s known!” and make it so goddamn funny. The man is in way too few movies and needs to be featured more, is all we’re saying. The screenplay from Aliamo and Matt Fiorello help matters and gives the actors reassurance to imbibe the dialogue like a bottle of tequila. Something that adds to the carousing vibe is the soundtrack; a mishmash of perky violins, rock and roll energy and gems likes “For The Saints” by The Browns are never far away from any scene at any moment, and the movie wouldn’t be the same without them.
However, there are a handful of things that do bring down “Chlorine” to uncomplimentary levels, full of untied loose ends and paper thin characters. Cynthia’s friend Suzi (Dreama Walker) is more of a background extra who is there purely to confirm the stereotype of a cliched teenage brat; Elise (Michelle Hicks) appears in and out of scenes as someone who is always the smartest in the room but her character’s purpose checks off a screenplay rule rather than adding anything of real value to the people around her, and while watching Tom Sizemore being Tom Sizemore will never get old, his glorified cameo as construction boss Ernie could have been more fleshed out. The plot of the film revolving around high-yielding risky investments is something that you’d find on a scrunched up paper in Jordan Belfort’s wastebasket, and the fact that “The Wolf Of Wall Street” is still fresh in your mind serves as a slight detriment to the movie’s serious moments. To put it another way, the fact that Elise is the only one who sees through Doug’s investment deal is a little hard to swallow.
In any case and despite the hiccups along the way, Alaimo has created a charming ride that swishes by like Vincent D’Onofrio’s forehand. Taking the screenplay’s curt moments too much to heart will stop you from enjoying an otherwise sweet and charismatic tale of mid-life crises and First World problems. The admirable wit that’s on display when it comes to subtle motifs and the poignant conclusion that resonates if you let it, regardless of how predictable or not it may seem, are all things that add up to a satisfactory feeling. Thanks to the performances, the music, some of the dialogue and the sense of playfulness that’s never gone for long enough to be missed, Jay Aliamo’s “Chlorine” makes its small mark in reminding us of the evil’s that lurk deep in the America that William S. Burroughs was talking about. [B-]