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AFI FEST 2009: Ricci Rich

Following the Thursday closing night of AFI Fest in Hollywood – and let me give them major props for keeping the free booze lounge going on that day, when normally one expects it to shut off completely on the final stretch – I stayed home all day Friday, recouping and forgetting what day it was. Besides, most of the movies playing Friday at the 2-day Santa Monica leg of the fest were ones I’d already seen.

But when I told a friend, “Hey, Liam Neeson horror movie Saturday!” he was into it. Then, based on the experience of the Hollywood fest, I also added that I had not seen any regular screening totally sell out. Which was true. But I had reckoned without the fact that the AFM audience would add to the throng in a BIG way.

The American Film Market is a place to buy and sell mostly low-budget movies. Now, I have friends who were there, and I work on this level, so I don’t want to tar everyone with the same brush…but I have to be honest, AFM feels a lot like a Douche Convention. So many of the people there actually aspire to be slick Hollywood assholes, and figure that the “Hollywood” part will follow if they get the rest of it down. This can work in the short term, but I don’t think it does for much longer than that. In my experience, the people who get the most work in this town have the right combination of talent and professionalism, i.e. they are EASY TO WORK WITH. Ever wonder why you don’t see many Balthasar Getty movies nowadays? It isn’t because he can’t act. Reliability and lack of obnoxiousness are bigger behind-the-scenes factors than you may have been led to believe. If you are hard to work with, you better have all the charisma in the world, or GUARANTEE a huge cash return…and hey, some people do. But most don’t.

So I think that many of the people attending the screening of AFTER.LIFE may have been potential buyers…and the ban on cameras a bit more lenient (loads o’ flashes) because this was trying to woo people over. It didn’t make things easy for my friend…and because of enthusiasm for a prior movie, it meant that what I had thought would be a 20-minute wait in line turned into an hour wait in line. He has a good story about it, and I hope he’ll give details soon enough. ‘Tisn’t my place to usurp his tale.

Suffice it to say that he literally got the last available ticket. By which point I, inside the auditorium, had given up on saving a seat, in part because the guy two seats away, self-servingly, had told me the entire rush line were sent away. This turned out to be a ploy to get his girlfriend into the seat between us…and she took a fucking text message during the show, as well as whispering to him in a voice they apparently thought I couldn’t hear.

My grandfather hated his deafness. Had he lived in the land of leaf-blowers and movie-talkers, he might have seen the bright side.

Christina Ricci, the live-action Bratz doll, showing up in a limo might have had something to do with the large turnout. I’ve talked to her exactly one time in my life, at the Sunset 5 box office, where she agreed with me and my coworker that people shouldn’t be able to get refunds just because they don’t like the movie. I always liked her, and that affirmed it.

I don’t know why AFTER.LIFE has a period in the middle of its title. There is no plot-point that involves the Internet. Maybe to avoid confusion with the Japanese film. I did like how the director’s company is called Llajoo, which when pronounced as if Mexican, is “yahoo.” Clever, but maybe too much so for marketing to the dumb masses.

The director’s name is Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, but her hubbie is apparently not G.I. Joe Zartan actor Arnold, but rather her cowriter, Paul Vosloo. Hooray for inter-cultural unions. But let me get straight to the very important point:

AFTER.LIFE features Christina Ricci walking around naked. A lot.

I posted this on Twitter (http://twitter.com/LYTrules), and followers wanted more details. So okay, here you go…her hips are always conveniently pivoted away from camera, so there is no bush here. But ass? Absolutely. Am I crass for saying that? Listen, I probably just helped guarantee this movie a sale.

The story opens with Christina getting fucked by Justin Long…and I probably just guaranteed a few more female sales. I don’t get it, exactly, but I do know that Justin is considered the sex bomb by many female friends. This may be an outgrowth of the insane devotion people with Mac computers have, since he represents them in commercials. Me, I say John Hodgman is more awesome. But I will never want to fuck either one, so what do I know. Get Christina to pimp for Macs and you might sell me.

Here’s a funny thing: according to IMDB, Kate Bosworth was originally offered this role. It’s funny because she never does nudity. Ricci has already leaped that barrier with PROZAC NATION and BITCH ON A CHAIN (otherwise known as Black Snake Moan, but I call it what it should have been called). Funnily enough, who has more acting cred, still? Ricci. Drop them drawers, Kate.

Alfred Molina was originally offered Liam Neeson’s role, too. He coulda done it…but Neeson is creepier.

Back to movie plot: Ricci is Anna, a crazy chick taking psychoactive drugs for her hallucinations. Long is Paul, her wanna-be fiancé. After he gets a promotion and she argues with him about the possible move that might ensue, she drives away in the midst of a rainstorm, playing angry music. Bad idea. Crash happens. And not the good kind of crash where you realize you’re racist and need reconciliation, plus Oscars. The bad kind, where you might be dead.

And this is the crux of the thing. She wakes up on a slab in a funeral home, with mortician Deacon (Liam Neeson) telling her she’s dead. But she doesn’t feel dead, and can still talk to him. This, he claims, is because he has a gift that enables him to talk to souls that are not yet reconciled to their fate. Is he for real, or just a crazy dude that prematurely kills people?

Let me just say that as a critic for ten years, I have seen my share of cheapie horror flicks that don’t screen for press, have no big names, and invariably end with the CARNIVAL OF SOULS “Surprise! She’s been dead the whole time!” twist. Agnieszka even nods to the most notable successor of that film, by giving us a kid who…SEES DEAD PEOPLE! But what works here that fails in so many others, is that she knows you know this stuff, and offers it up as a possibility right off the bat. Maybe Anna is dead all along. Or maybe the hallucinatory drugs she’s been taking are distorting her perception. Is Deacon an evil premature murderer suffering from obvious delusions, or is he truly trying to help lost ghosts?

Since the film is a bit long, you may find yourself saying, “Get on with it, I just want the debate to be resolved!” If a distributor picks this up and asks for a narrative trim or two, I will not be unsympathetic. But it also winds up potentially going into SAW territory…like, IF Deacon is bad, it’s only because he gets rid of people who don’t appreciate life. At the same time, IF Anna isn’t dead, why does she have visions of hell? Just the pills? Or something greater?

On the other hand, you could just say that she has awesome boobs and butt. And you see them a lot.

There’s also some good stuff with the aforementioned kid, but best you experience that for yourself.

At the Q&A afterwards, Ricci joked that she took the role because she hates wearing clothes. At least, I think it was a joke.

To see my friend’s photo of her for UberCine.com, go here

And that’s a wrap on AFI Fest, folks. More fast food and the usual musings coming as we transition back to non-fest mode.

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Rating: 8.2/10 (5 votes cast)
AFI FEST 2009: "Ricci Rich", 8.2 out of 10 based on 5 ratings
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