Films, no matter low-budget, high-budget, no-budget need to have one essential element to ensure that the time dedicated to the characters, emotions, and themes is not futile. That, singular strong moment, has to be story. Whether it is a horror film, a sci-fi film, or even a Bergman avant-garde film, there needs to be at least a small strain of story carrying the viewer from point A to point B, if that is missing – the entire structure of the film will collapse. Characters you can ignore, emotion can be faked, and the themes can be murky, but without that central story – your film will ultimately be found in the dollar bin at the nearest retail chop shop. Despite Harvey Keitel, Viggo Mortensen, Thandie Newton, and a slew of British accents – that is why "The Young Americans" failed. Absolutely it was a dark crime noir, a family retribution, and a love story, but the story in "The Young Americans" was so weak, that getting to the different point, the different scenes, felt rushed, unfamiliar, and murky. This jumbled, muddled mess of a film boasts cheapness from every angle, but due to the missing story – "The Young Americans" fails to be anything more than a random Harvey Keitel stumble at the store, or a cheap recommendation because you rented "Reservoir Dogs".
With the sound of raves in the background, the viewer is pulled right into the youth of Britain circa mid-90s. Dance parties, gangs, and late nights plague the screen as groups of genuine unknowns get killed in the night. This should have been an indication of what the remainder of the film would be like, but I trudged onward – and definitely not upward. After the brutal killings, we are swooped into the world of Harvey Keitel, or anti-antagonist (seemingly blending together every cop cliché/genre) John Harris. Brought in to help with a murder, we soon learn that there is a secondary motive in play – something that has to do with a very young, an extremely overacted, Viggo Mortensen. As we jump from one frame to another, one initial drawback are the dark, character building scenes
literally, there is the concept of symbolic lighting to set the tone
but director Danny Cannon used so much darkness some scenes are blank on the screen. Missing more than a fourth of the film, we are forced to follow an unknown path between Keitel, Mortensen, love-interest Thandie Newton, and relative newbie Craig Kelly. It is his story that transfers the power from Keitel, but is equally as unappetizing. After the death of a family member, Kelly's Christian decides to turn against the crew that did it, becoming a powerful tool for Keitel, but the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and whys are never answered – still giving us nothing but quick scenes, literally teleporting us from point A to point B, without reason or consequence.
As mentioned, the story is the ultimate failure of the film. There were actions made by our characters that did not seem to fit within the realm that Danny Cannon had created, but he continued to push through. Nothing was answered, situations were randomly created, and why was Viggo Mortensen's character so underdeveloped, yet so vital to the story? Who knows. That question became the downtrodden central theme to this film, and a reason why "The Young Americans" will never see success. With our story a clustered mess, how did the rest fair beneath the control of Cannon? Not surprisingly, the British were believable and grounded. The minor characters, perhaps outside of Craig Kelly, felt like real police and the setting (due to extensive British TV watching) felt like Britain 1993, but the influx of the American presence just ruined the rest. Keitel could have been Steven Seagul or JCVD, he was not cunning, nothing brilliant, just an American cop-dislocated and fighting against the shadow of a drug dealer. The entire subplot with his ex-wife was nothing short of embarrassing. Used to build his character, it just felt more like a cheap trick instead of honest emotion. The same can be said with Viggo Mortensen, who with choppy editing by Danny Cannon, never quite developed past the notion of "creepy guy". With a voice that sounded like a Lynch character, an unknown occupation, and a purpose to be in Britain (let's not forget his peculiarity towards young men), Mortensen felt more like a placemat than a villain. On the other side of this film, Newton read her lines well, and Craig Kelly attempted to work around Cannon and David Hilton's catastrophe of a script. It was obvious the actors were found, the script was heavily edited, and the final product was a rushed pile of poorly constructed LEGOs. One flick of your finger, it will all go crumbling down.
Overall, in case it hasn't been noticed, this was an abomination of a film. From the darkly lit scenes (you have to watch to believe how dark this film was), to the atrocious acting, to the story that went nowhere but somehow ended up at the final credits, "The Young Americans" was a direct to video release for a reason. Shot in 38 days, this film felt rushed and incomplete. Mortensen's character is the one I struggle with the most, as the ending leads us to believe that this was supposed to be a different film than the one we began or watched. There were too many wild-cards (see Jack Doyle) that muddled the main story. It is a murky mess that is easily forgotten and should be avoided. Danny Cannon may have given us "CSI" and "Judge Dredd", but this is an incompetent film that will appeal to nobody and fails miserably.
Grade: * out of *****