AMERICAN CRUDE comes over a decade after its inspiration. Movies like Pulp Fiction don't lose their brilliance in the dust of years, but it's films like AMERICAN CRUDE that make people forget what they once did for the business.
Written and directed by Craig Sheffer (Keith of One Tree Hill), the movie is desperate to sound biting and witty. Transvestite prostitutes debate against vegetarianism (arguing that they have a consciousness because they turn to face the sun and neglecting, of course, to mention the fine points of phototropism). Jaded spouses debate the merits and purposes of marriage (a painfully unclever argument with wrinkles all over it). Hillbilly farm boys woo unsuspecting virgins by citing the biological imperative of the human body. It's lumpy, clumsy, poorly worded stuff.
I don't know how relatively talented individuals like Ron Livingston, Ron Barry, Michael Clarke Duncan, and John C. McGinley ended up floundering in this lame horse of a film. Even Rob Schneider (who I think can sometimes have his place in a film) is horribly miscast, dutifully playing it straight to his (for some reason) best friend, Ron Livingston's smarmy and corrupt attorney. (Schneider, now that I think about it, does the best job of acting in the whole film, and his character -- the one person trying to do the right thing -- is a welcome pace, surrounded as he is by a whole cadre of selfish, whining, argumentatively shrill losers.)
The stories sputter out before the movie is even halfway finished, but that's mainly because the writing is so bad. The directing shows promise but is tortured by a lack of focus. Trying so hard to be a dark comedy and culturally relevant and philosophically edgy and wistfully ironic, the film spins out of control. But I'm not really describing its flaws aptly; "spins out of control" makes it sound vibrant or at least energetic. This stupid little flick is neither.
One thing that can be said for it: it is certainly crude. It's not the most vulgar movie I've ever seen, but it wants to be. Perhaps if there were more creative power involved in the making, it could have at least shocked and titilated. Instead, it manages the astounding feat of being both offensive and boring. The various stories eventually come together -- much like PULP FICTION -- but unlike Tarantino's film, the result is a dull, headachy mess. And even though I'm one of those people who are always willing to give Rob Schneider a chance, I will say that it's bad news when he is the best thing about the movie.