'Tollbooth'

Salome Breziner's "Tollbooth" is a giddy contemporary comedy--romantic on the one hand, gleefully prankish on the other--that's distinctive and funny. It's steeped in seedy Florida Keys atmosphere, shrewdly cast and an altogether notable feature debut for Breziner, who has a sense of Florida-style craziness that recalls the lively novels of Carl Hiaasen.
     Jack (Lenny Von Dohlen), a sweet-natured tollbooth clerk who dreams of becoming a cop, and his girlfriend Doris (Fairuza Balk), a gas station attendant who works nearby, have told themselves that they have the perfect jobs for running across Doris' father, who 10 years earlier failed to show up for her 10th birthday celebration and has never been seen since.
     At this point Jack is getting a little antsy, for Doris is saving herself for marriage, which can't happen until she finds her father--never mind that she is having a hot affair with Jack's best friend Dash (Will Patton), who runs a bait and tackle shop while writing a novel. Meanwhile, Doris' mother (Louise Fletcher) has pretty much put her life on hold for a whole decade.
     Doris is perky, bright but not reflective. The one flashback to her childhood shows the missing father to have been a cruel monster, and she consciously works off her fear and rage in wild, aggressive lovemaking with Dash. Why should she want to locate such a jerk? She might not be able to answer that, but it's clear she and her mother yearn for some kind of resolution or closure. In any event, Jack feels it's high time that he make a conscientious search for the missing man so that everyone can get on with their lives.
     *
     "Tollbooth" is thick with plot, but to describe it further would be to give too much away. Once Jack starts digging, he triggers a series of misapprehensions and potential catastrophes. Through it all Breziner celebrates that great sustaining belief that good actually can come from evil while playfully observing the eternal duality of human nature; she even casts redoubtable Seymour Cassel in a pivotal role illustrating precisely this. With much dark humor Breziner goes on to suggest that the truth does not necessarily set you free--that it's good to shake things up yet at some point it's sometimes better to back off and to leave well-enough alone.
     Breziner has as much an easy assurance with the film medium as she has with actors. Von Dohlen sustains Jack's mounting fears and confusion while keeping him seeming at times naive but never outright stupid. The mercurial Balk, who can seem pretty one moment and ravaged the next, is just right for the hyperactive, essentially appealing Doris.      Balk, who first came to attention in Allison Anders' delightful "Gas Food Lodging," has a transfixing quicksilver quality that flourishes here as it does in the recently released supernatural thriller "The Craft." Patton is droll as Dash, but we fear for his writing ambitions when an incident inspires this phrase: "The ambiguity of the cheerleader's tears." One need not have any such fears for Breziner, for "Tollbooth" proclaims the arrival of a new talent with a fresh take on the human comedy.


Tollbooth, 1996. R, for a scene of strong sexuality and for language and some gore. A Trans Atlantic Entertainment presentation of a Roadkill Films production in association with Sneak Preview Productions. Writer-director Salome Breziner. Producer Steven J. Wolfe. Executive producers Herschel Weingrod, Robert M. Bennett, Paul Rich and Rena Ronson. Cinematographer Henry Vargas. Editor Peter Teschner. Costumes Kelly Zitrick. Music Adam Gorgoni. Production designer Brendan Barry. Art director Charles Deaux. Set decorator William Cimino. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. Fairuza Balk as Doris. Lenny Von Dohlen as Jack. Will Patton as Dash. Seymour Cassel as Leon/Larry. Louise Fletcher as Lillian.

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