Luckily for debuting writer-director Eric Schwab, it seems never to have occurred to him that there's nothing in the least original about "The Learning Curve," a reckless romance.
Fearless before the familiar, he proceeds with no self-consciousness and with sufficient passion and unflagging energy to make him a filmmaker to watch, along with stars Carmine Giovinazzo, Monet Mazur and Vincent Ventresca. Scwab clearly believes in his material and his characters and in turn similarly inspires confidence in his cast. "The Learning Curve" may not offer anything new, but it has terrific vitality.
Giovinazzo's Paul, a hospital orderly, comes to the rescue of Mazur's Georgia, who seems likely to have encouraged the advances from a man she's now trying to repulse. Paul and Georgia then head to an amusement park, where the two discover an overpowering mutual attraction and a modus operandi: Georgia will hustle guys and Paul will suddenly appear to shake them down. Their gambit starts paying off when they lasso Ventresca's Marshal with a staged car accident. They are suddenly in way over their heads, because the tall, sleekly dressed Marshal is a big-time operator, a record producer with ruthless methods and a plan for an immense entertainment complex in downtown L.A. that he intends to build despite opposition from several city council members. Instead of pressing charges against Paul and Georgia, he recruits them and even turns over a spacious loft as living quarters.
Georgia aspires to be a serious artist, but the nave Paul becomes increasingly drawn into the criminal activities of Marshal and his cocky, brutal right-hand man York (Steven Bauer).
Paul is dazzled by Marshal and his lavish lifestyle but the more sophisticated Georgia, who comes from Westside affluence, becomes increasingly disturbed by how ensnared Paul has become in Marshal's shady schemes. Why Georgia gets involved in the first place is revealed in good time and gives the film some depth and dimension.
Schwab has made bold use of L.A. locales without the least concern for geography. For example, Paul and Georgia meet in Pershing Square in downtown L.A. but the movie that they decide to take in is at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, not a few steps away on South Broadway, which is the impression the film gives. No matter, for Schwab makes effective use of all his atmospheric locations, well-photographed by Michael Hofstein in film noir style.
"The Learning Curve" really belongs on the small screen and a video rental shelf because it lacks anything special. But it is a solid showcase for its three promising stars and Bauer, who heads a large supporting cast that includes Majandra Delfino as a poised young singer and Richard Erdman as a shopkeeper courageous enough to resist the rapacious development promoted by Marshal. Erdman brings a wry humanity to the screen, as he has ever since that memorable film noir "Cry Danger" 50 years ago.
MPAA-rated: R, for language, violence, some sexuality and drug content. Times guidelines: too brutal for youngsters.
'The Learning Curve'
Carmine Giovinazzo: Paul
Monet Mazur: Georgia
Vincent Ventresca: Marshal
Steven Bauer: York
A Motion Picture Corp. of America/O.C.E presentation. Writer-director Eric Schwab. Producers Oscar Delgado, Carey Westberg, Puntip Limrungroj. Executive producers Michael Hofstein, Daarek Szeto, Margaret M. Quitter. Cinematographer Hofstein. Editor Adam C. Frank. Music supervisor Ted Lowe. Production designer Nya Patrinos. Art director Chandra Moore. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
In general release.