Directed and co-written by Daniel Myrick, one of the creators of "The Blair Witch Project," "The Objective" tries to blend military engagement with sci-fi anxiety. A CIA operative is sent into Afghanistan just after 9/11 to assemble a team of soldiers and track down a mysterious heat source in the desert.
The film is at its best when working the contours of its high concept -- you can just hear the "It's 'Apocalypse Now' meets 'Alien' with a '2001' twist" pitch meeting -- but falls flat whenever it becomes something of a stumblebum action picture.
The scenes of servicemen feel somehow false, a screenwriter's idea of military life rather than the real thing. Myrick does an admirable job of spinning tension from a group of guys mostly standing around, but too often the film's portentous tone seems more silly than suspenseful.
-- Mark Olsen "The Objective." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.
Saving the girl but not the story
Style significantly trumps substance in "The Perfect Sleep," a good-looking but convoluted homage to film noir, Russian literature and Shakespearean tragedy, among a few too many other things.
Although the script by star Anton Pardoe is ambitious and creative, its dizzying array of characters, along with a dense story that unfolds more like a checklist of showdowns than an organic narrative, make for a tedious sit. Intentionally overheated dialogue ("I will baptize myself with hate!") and excessive voice-over don't help.
The actor-writer plays a hard-boiled guy who returns to a dark, timeless city to save Porphyria (Roselyn Sanchez), the woman he has loved since childhood, from shadowy assassins who would like him dead as well.
Violence -- a lot of it -- ensues.
Pardoe brings requisite torment and energy to the lead, but he and the rest of the game cast grapple with fleshing out what are essentially one-dimensional roles. Director Jeremy Alter does, however, make vivid use of the picture's limited locations (especially downtown L.A.'s landmark Bradbury Building) and has a keen eye for lighting and composition.
-- Gary Goldstein "The Perfect Sleep." MPAA rating: R for violence, some language and brief drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.
Odd pair lost in wine country
In the American indie "Sherman's Way" a privileged, stuffed-shirt Yalie (Michael Shulman) making a beeline for an internship at a San Francisco law firm gets sidetracked in Napa Valley with a shaggy, past-his-prime Olympic skier named Palmer (James LeGros) who's nursing back to health a neglected mid-'70s MGB Roadster.
It's lost-in-life meets lust-for-life in the reliably regenerative wine country, which means most moviegoers could hand this emotionally stranded odd couple a road map of where they'll be by the closing credits.
"Sherman's Way" -- economically directed by Craig Saavedra from Tom Nance's uncomplicated script -- has a case of performance lopsidedness. LeGros, sporting impressively bearish facial undergrowth, brings plenty of comic intelligence and sneaky heart to his gruff, midlife exile. Ditto Enrico Colantoni as Palmer's Zen-and-the-art-of-cooking-and-auto-repair pal DJ.
Shulman, though, who also produced, is a personality drag, unable to make us care that Sherman's off-putting arrogance warrants even by-the-numbers enlightenment. When the free-spirited girl (Brooke Nevin) shows up to help nudge uptight Sherman toward love -- the movie equivalent of an arranged coupling -- for once you'll believe she's better suited chilling with the older dude.
-- Robert Abele "Sherman's Way." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. At the Laemmle Monica 4-Plex, 1332 Second St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741; and the Laemmle Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500.
Needing some room to vent
Filmed in the suburbs of Highland Park, N.J., "Steam" takes its title from the steam room in a health spa frequented by Ruby Dee's Doris, a widow grieving over the recent loss of her son; Ally Sheedy's Laurie, a divorcee with a small child and a nasty ex-husband; and Kate Siegel's Elizabeth, a college freshman with a religious father.
The women experience unexpected romances, though some of what these characters encounter is needlessly soap operatic. When people behave badly in this film they verge on caricature, which is unfortunate considering that writer-director Kyle Schickner's heroines are quite believable.
Schickner's reach exceeds his grasp. In trying to tell three stories simultaneously in a two-hour running time, he allows for too many developments that seem driven more by plot than character.
-- Kevin Thomas "Steam." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 2 hours. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.