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HAVOC
Unrated

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Anne Hathaway, Bijou Phillips, Freddy Rodriguez, Mike Vogel, Michael Biehn, Laura San Giacomo
Director:  Barbara Kopple
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  New Line
Features:  Trailer
Length:  92 Minutes
Release Date:  November 29, 2005

"So...you wanna know about us?"

Film *

I guess the best comparison here is to Julie Andrews in S.O.B.  She was America's G-rated sweetheart, the star of such enduring family classics as Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, baring it all for the camera.  Now it's Anne Hathaway's turn.

Ms. Hathaway, who lit up the screen for Disney in movies like The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted, went for the "I'm no teen angel" role in Havoc.  If she wanted to strike a blow against typecasting, she succeeded.  She probably put her reputation as a family film favorite on life support.

She's a wonderfully talented actress and breathtakingly beautiful to boot, but it's a shame that if she was going to risk it all on a meaty adult role, she chose this one.  Havoc would have been a jumbled, unfocused disappointment in any year, but the fact that it came out the same year as Crash was extra bad news.  Crash was the most moving, haunting and intelligent treatise on race relations in recent memory.  Havoc is a film that doesn't know what it wants to say...only what it wants to see.

Hathaway plays Allison Lang, a rich kid from Palisades.  She hangs out with others like her:  all well-to-do, all white, all wanting to be something they aren't.  They've embraced ghetto culture, and wear the threads and talk the talk, never knowing how silly they look and sound to the rest of the world.

One night she and her friends cross over to the East side of Los Angeles for a little adventure.  They get a little more than they bargained for in Hector (Rodriguez), who actually lives the life they only play-act at.  He humiliates Allison's boyfriend (Vogel), and it seems to turn her on.  Soon she's going back to find out more about life on the other side of the tracks.

Is it a commentary on economic and social divisions?  Maybe up to a point.  Maybe we're as na´ve as Allison in thinking that such lines are easily overcome.  Or maybe we're just sucker-punched when she and her best friend Emily (Phillips) agree to do whatever is necessary to join Hector and his crew.  Then one of them finds she'll do whatever is necessary to get OUT of it as well.  Ultimately someone dies, and we don't even know who.  I guess it didn't really matter.

Just what exactly was the point of it all?  That's the question that lingers after the credits roll.  It's like making a picture with pieces coming from several different jigsaw puzzles.  There's even a kid making a documentary about the Palisades wannabes (a sorely overused story technique), but he's frequently forgotten until the time comes to make some sort of assessment of the goings-on. 

Is there a point to showing that a rich girl with influential parents can get out of jail faster than some poor gang member with no family?  Is there a point to illustrating that drug dealers make buck because rich people seek THEM out?  Is there a point to how much easier it is to take the word of an honor student over that of a disreputable lowlife with a rap sheet?  In real life, the answer is yes.  In Havoc, the answer is "I don't know...what do YOU think?"

There's nothing in the film that makes us view people of any race with any sympathy.  So what is the ultimate message?  That our imbedded fears and prejudices are well-founded?  That whether white, black, Hispanic or otherwise, you're bound to get stabbed in the back?  That kids whose lives are essentially big vacuums will latch onto anything to fill their voids? 

The last one is not such a bad concept, except it was done much more powerfully in films like Kids and Bully.  Those movies hit you a gut level and left you queasy.  Havoc just leaves you annoyed and frustrated.

Video ***

Not a bad looking transfer...New Line always comes through on DVD, and this one is no exception.  Though showing some effects of being a lower-budgeted film, images are still well rendered throughout, with minimal grain.  A few colors look a little over saturated, but that's probably owing to the purse strings.  A decent effort overall.

Audio ***

The Dolby Digital and DTS surround tracks definitely have dynamic range and bottom end, but that's owing to the never-ending stream of rap music that dominates the soundtrack.  Dialogue sounds good, and there are some spare uses of surround effects in crowded scenes.

Features 1/2*

Only a trailer.

Summary:

I guess ultimately what disturbs me about Havoc is that it will become a must-see just because Anne Hathaway took her clothes off for the camera.  It's a shame the movie doesn't offer something more.  Ms. Hathaway is extremely talented and lovely...far more so than this film deserved.

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