Powder Blue attained some early notoriety as the sexy Jessica Biel stripper movie that got Tinseltown tongues a-wagging with news that the scantily clad super-starlet would be revealing slightly more flesh than usual. Alas, an abundance of press attention and copious Biel nudity are just about the only things setting Powder Blue apart from a tidal wave of glum indie ensemble dramas about alienated misfits searching desperately for connection, truth, and meaning in a cityscape of lost souls.
Biel leads a star-studded ensemble as a coke-addled stripper whose existence gets even grimmer when she loses her beloved dog just before an unseasonably cold L.A. Christmas. Eddie Redmayne plays an asthmatic mortician/puppeteer who finds Biel’s dog and begins a tentative romance with its owner. Forest Whitaker helps round out the circle of grief as a former priest who left the church to marry Sanaa Lathan, only to lose her in a wedding-day car crash that sent him into a suicidal downward spiral. Ray Liotta, meanwhile, plays a mysterious man with a mysterious, endlessly telegraphed secret who shows up at the strip club where Biel works for scumbag Patrick Swayze (with a soul patch and a deeply unflattering bleached-blonde hair-metal Wrestler ’do) and mesmerizes Biel with his strangely familiar blue eyes, even though he’s old enough to be her father. (Hint, hint.)
Writer-director Timothy Linh Bui keeps ratcheting up the melodrama to ridiculously portentous heights. It isn’t enough to cast a wildly overmatched Biel as a mournful stripper with a coke problem; no, she also has to have a lost dog, a son in a coma, and a mortally ill ex-con father whom she thinks is dead, but who is eager to make amends and now has the money to do so. Powder Blue seems stitched together, patchwork-style, from bits and pieces of superior films. It echoes Crash in its “We’re all in this together” pseudo-profundity, and Magnolia in its downbeat exploration of free-floating L.A. ennui and freak climactic precipitation. A dour aggregation of indie quirks and unnecessary subplots, Powder Blue shoots for art, but dead-ends at gloomy smut. It’s destined for a long, early-morning run on pay cable: The arthouse’s loss is Cinemax’s gain.
Key features: A fawning making-of featurette and an audio commentary by the writer-director.