Another week, another film with an actor behind the camera. This time it’s Hart Bochner, forever known as the sniveling Harry Ellis from Diehard. An unconvincing, willfully quirky, dryly comic tale of ensemble empowerment, Just Add Water doesn’t represent Bochner’s directorial debut (he also helmed 1994’s PCU and 1996’s High School High), but it is the first produced feature film he’s written, and it mainly shows considerable evidence that he’s seen a lot of movies, given the smooth, plastic lines of its construction.
The story unfolds in Trona, California — a dead-end desert town for people with dead-end lives, a place run by a foul-tempered young meth dealer named Dirk (Will Rothhaar, looking like the president of the Ryan Gosling Look-Alike Fan Club). Going nowhere fast is Ray Tuckby (Dylan Walsh), a mild-mannered underground parking lot attendant saddled with a neurotic shut-in wife, Charlene (Penny Balfour), and an ill-mannered, sexually frustrated, mostly silent son, Eddie (Jonah Hill). Ray’s life totally bottoms out when he finds out his wife is cheating on him (with his brother, natch), and Eddie, who might not be his son after all, is working for Dirk.
While everyone else dithers, Ray starts feeling his oats, and like he should make a stand. (For a clip from the movie, click here.) With the help of new-to-town gas station owner Merl Stryker (Danny DeVito) and childhood sweetheart Nora (Tracy Middendorf), a retail clerk who hides instant banana pudding for him, Ray rallies the oppressed and bullied townspeople of Trona to get even with Dirk, and prove that it’s never too late to grow, even if you’re all grown up. Justin Long, Anika Noni Rose and Brad Hunt also costar.
Bochner sketches a convincing enough backdrop through his setting, but the (chief) problem is that all his dialogue is hopelessly on the nose. Scenes play out to move the plot forward, but with little or any actual emotional impact. Case in point: when Ray confronts Charlene about her affair, moments after having walked in on her having sex with his brother, she tells him it’s been going on “about nine months before Eddie was born,” to which Ray blinks, and replies, “Does the boy know?” Does the boy know? I’m not sure any father or husband in the history of mankind has replied like that. There are other problems with casting, too (I’ve been less than enamored with Walsh ever since he got out-acted by the animatronic gorillas in Congo, and Hill and Long seem to have wandered over from the set of Accepted to do some pointless, vanilla character work), but mostly this is just a yawning, flatly drawn tale.
Housed in a regular Amray case and presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with an English language 5.1 Dolby digital audio track and optional French and English subtitles, there are no supplemental extras on this release, save the inclusion of preview trailers for American Crude, Married Life, 21, Rescue Me, Kabluey and a half dozen other titles. Given that it is, in theory, a somewhat personal statement from Bochner (however little known he is as a screen commodity), that’s damning. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. D+ (Movie) D- (Disc)