Review

'The Toy Soldiers' is a tangled web of damaged souls

Review: Erik Peter Carlson's 'The Toy Soldiers' is a set of dull tales of damaged souls in Southern California

More is decidedly less in "The Toy Soldiers," an unfortunate, way overlong ensemble melodrama nominally set in mid-1980s Southern California. Writer-producer-director Erik Peter Carlson has clearly put his heart and soul into this saga involving a crisscross of damaged teens and a few equally messed-up adults, but he simply doesn't possess the kind of discerning eye and ear needed to take on such an ambitious emotional tapestry.

Five individual, overlapping stories unfold in one night against the closing of a local skate palace named the Toy Soldiers Roller Rink. But the shuttering of said rink proves a token engine as the film moves from one dreary tale to the next: a tormented gay teen, Jack (Samuel Nolan), forces himself out of the closet; a painfully awkward musician (Nick Frangione) pursues his dream girl, Layla (Jeanette May Steiner), a $10 hooker; Jack's rudderless, druggie older brother, Elliot (Chandler Rylko), attracts a pretty redhead (Najarra Townsend) with a dark past; Jack and Elliot's divorcing, alcoholic mother (Constance Brenneman) has a downward spiral; and, finally, Layla returns in a hodgepodge of moments, some involving an unwitting "john" with Tourette syndrome (Izzy Pollak).

Other folks pop in and out including Jack and Elliot's abusive father (Kevin Pinassi), Jack's indignant skater boyfriend (Andre Myers) and Elliot's coke-fueled bud, Jason (Thatcher Robinson).

But between lots of uneven acting, some embarrassingly bad dialogue ("How do you move forward when your soul is torn apart?!") and too many unconvincing, warmed-over moments, the movie, like its charisma-free characters, is a tough one to embrace.

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"The Toy Soldiers."

MPAA rating: R for sexual content, language, drug content and strong violence.

Running time: 2 hours, 24 minutes.

Playing: AMC Universal CityWalk Stadium 19; AMC Puente Hills 20, City of Industry; AMC Rolling Hills 20, Torrance.

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