Day Zero Movie Review

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The alternate reality in Day Zero is a nightmare for young American men: Within a backdrop of terrorist attacks and the Iraq War, the U.S. military draft has been reinstated. It's an intriguing concept, but it's stuck in a film that rarely digs deep, and never quite hits the mark.

Rather than investigate the larger, more challenging issues, first-time director Bryan Gunnar Cole keeps it small and personal, focusing on three buddies: a wimpy author (Elijah Wood, continuing to shed Frodo), a suit-and-tied attorney (the stale Chris Klein) and a streetwise cabbie (uneven Jon Bernthal). Each receives his notice at the same time, with 30 days to report for service. And with the first scenes featuring the trio, it's tough to believe they'd ever been friends -- sadly, they just seem like three actors pretending to be friends, proof that on-screen camaraderie can be a bitch to achieve.

This, of course, makes it difficult to go along with Cole's approach, since we can't really understand or sympathize with the guys' assumed bond. Dixon (Bernthal) is raring to fight for freedom, George (Klein) has decided not to go, and Feller (Wood) is scared shitless. Writer Rob Malkani's introduction is awkward, a rushed attempt to establish these three positions so the guys can yell at each other and over-deliver shaky dialogue.

Surprising then, that Day Zero slowly gains a foothold as it moves along. The characters enjoy a bit more development, and Malkani's script takes some simple turns from expectation. Feller creates a list of things he must do in a month -- starting harmlessly enough with "drink ten shots" and getting progressively creepier and more dangerous. George, unable to part with his cancer survivor wife (a too-small role for Ginnifer Goodwin), gets desperate and weird; and Dixon avoids the truth with his new girlfriend.

Step back from the small, more interesting points and Day Zero is stuck in a rhythmic rut for most of the movie. Scenes alternate between the three guys and their individual lives with a cookie-cutter tempo that just won't gain steam. For instance, it's a fine idea (probably on paper) to develop the early relationship between Dixon and his new girl, but the setup is too generic to mean anything. Their first date could be dropped into any small romance. So where's the real context? It seems the ticking-clock dread of 25th Hour should be all over this movie, but we hardly feel it.

The narrative weaknesses could have been overcome by worthy performances, but the leads are only passable. Wood sticks some great scenes toward the movie's end -- but he also seems aware of his role's general lack of originality. Klein has never been much of an actor (Election was perfect for him) and he's asked to take on too much for his skill set. Bernthal, a relative unknown, is predictable.

In the final scenes, it appears Cole has finally decided to open up the movie, dropping characters into what appears to be an actual anti-war protest in New York. Alas, it's short-lived, and no one will mistake this earnest try for Medium Cool. Maybe just Smallish Cool.

Cast & Crew

Director : Bryan Gunnar Cole

Producer : Anthony Moody

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Day Zero Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2008

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