Thereís never been a psycho
thriller like AMERICAN PERFEKT (sic), a cunning exercise in misdirection
featuring a top notch cast. Itís a real shame the film isnít better known.
As far as Iím concerned no movie starring Fairuza Balk, David Thewlis,
Amanda Plummer, Paul Sorvino, Chris Sarandon and seasoned veteran Robert Forster
(in a role written specifically for the actor, a year before his Oscar-nominated
ďcomebackĒ in JACKIE BROWN) can possibly be unworthy. 1997ís AMERICAN PERFEKT
features all of those fine actors and is indeed a terrific film.
It was produced by retired movie director Irvin
Kershner (of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, THE EYES OF LAURA MARS and ROBOCOP 2),
partially financed by the notorious indie movie packager Elie Samaha, and
written and directed by the talented British upstart Paul Chart. For some
unfathomable reason itís never received the attention it deserves, and for years
wasnít even available on home video in the USA. Youíre well advised to track
down the DVD, even though that task is admittedly easier said than done.
Sandra is a discontented yuppie driving through the Nevada desert to pick
up her flaky sister Alice--until sheís driven off the road by a nut in a station
wagon. A passing motorist stops to help her out: its Jack Nyman, an eccentric
shrink on a road trip whoís every turn, heís determined, will be decided by the
flip of a coin. But through an unfortunate chain of circumstances Sandraís car
gets towed away and she and Jack end up stranded. Their only hope is a guy in a
station wagon--the very one who drove Sandra off the road!
The station wagon driver turns out to be a decent-seeming Englishman who
drives Jack and Sandra to the nearest town. He tries to cheat Jack and Sandra
out of their money, but is stopped by Jack, who makes a momentous decision:
heíll flip a coin and if it turns up heads heíll kill the cheater. Heads it
The next day Jack meets Alice, Sandraís estranged sister, in a bar--Sandra
herself has disappeared. Alice decides to tag along with Jack, but theyíre
confronted by the dying Englishman, who expires in Aliceís arms. Jack doesnít
seem too ruffled by this. In fact heís downright nonchalant, which makes Alice
suspicious. Sheís right to be concerned, especially since her sisterís corpse
happens to be stuffed in the trunk of Jackís car!
Like any good thriller itís the twisty narrative thatís paramount here, and
the best thing about Paul Chartís direction is that he never allows it to get in
the way of the story. His script is a marvel of invention, with a constantly
mutating narrative that never takes an expected turn and shockingly discards
some pivotal characters before the halfway point, while cunningly concealing its
true antagonist until the final half hour. The screenplay is also daring in the
way it, despite relating the story of a serial killer, doesnít feature an
onscreen killing until well into the second act. Somehow it all comes together
into a disciplined and absorbing whole.
Credit goes to Chartís skilled, craftsmanlike
filmmaking, which keeps things lively and well paced. The acting is also
top-notch, with the always excellent Robert Forster being the stand-out in a
performance thatís by turns reassuring, eccentric and profoundly menacing.
Forster also continues his penchant for full-frontal nudity (begun with his very
first film appearance, in John Hustonís REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, and
continuing through the likes of MEDIUM COOL and HOLLYWOOD HARRY). Terrific
film, but you have been warned...
Director: Paul Chart
Producer: Irvin Kershner
Screenplay: Paul Chart
Cinematography: William Wages
Editing: Michael Ruscico
Cast: Fairuza Balk, Robert Forster, Amanda Plummer, Paul Sorvino, David Thewlis,
Geoffrey Lewis, Chris Sarandon, Joanna Gleason