IN THEATERS (SF) – “The American Side”

rsz_the-stakeout-730x311The American Side (2016; Dir.: Jenna Ricker)

GRADE: C

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Friday at the Vogue Theatre in San Francisco.

I can’t even describe how much I want to like a scruffy, amiable, atmospheric, widescreen neo-noir lovingly shot in and around Buffalo, but The American Side is a stiff from start to finish.  Co-writer Greg Stuhr makes for an extremely unconvincing hard-boiled lead as Polish private dick Charlie Paczynski, “still a loser” and still shaking down cheating husbands in a back-alley bar.  When his stripper partner goes missing on a routine blackmail mission, Charlie gets drawn into a rote plot involving a monotone femme fatale (Camilla Belle), her contemptuous intellectual brother (Matthew Broderick), a Niagara Falls enthusiast (Robert Forster, bringing it, bless his heart), a few dead bodies and a stolen Nikola Tesla notebook.  The film’s sorry attempts to recycle film noir tropes are amusing for ten or twenty minutes; by the time The American Side re-creates the North by Northwest crop duster scene for literally no reason whatsoever, it’s simply annoying.  Director and co-writer Ricker makes inspired use of Buffalo locations, and there are even some beautiful moments (as well as an in-stride Super Bowl XXV joke), but there is also a lot of clunky corner-cutting.  If Ricker ditched the glossy, widescreen treatment for something grittier and truer to the essence of film noir, this might have been something more than a forgettable novelty.