"Before I Disappear" is writer-director Shawn Christensen's feature-length expansion of his Oscar-winning short "Curfew" from 2012, and it has the unfortunate taste of something lean that's been plumped up with empty calories.
The skeleton story remains: Moments before committing suicide, lovelorn junkie Richie (Christensen) answers a frantic phone call from his estranged sister (Emmy Rossum) to pick up her precociously intelligent pre-teen daughter Sophia (Fatima Ptacek, reprising her role) from school and babysit her. A seriocomic all-night tour of his lowlife haunts follows, with tentative uncle-niece bonding that sparks a new life for Richie.
In turning this compact tale into a feature, however, Christensen lards it with empty digressions involving bad blood between Richie's employers (Paul Wesley and Ron Perlman), an overdosed girl and a side trip to beat up Sophia's bad dad. And because it's all shot to look like a South Korean noir, with umpteen slo-mo shots and stylistic noodlings to affect a kind of grimy urban anti-hero chic, Christensen effectively leeches the emotion from the central story.
By the time he brings it all back around to familial redemption, it feels tacked on for sentiment rather than genuinely nurtured.
"Before I Disappear"
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood.