The ersatz-grunge look of "Love the Hard Way" almost makes this independent film worth a peek, but it's likely that most eyes will be fixed on Adrien Brody parading about in his knickers. Shot before "The Pianist," the modestly mounted feature gives the young actor's admirers ample opportunity to indulge in their admiration since cinematographer Guy Dufaux captures Brody's every squint and bedroom move like an obsessive lover. Too bad the rest of the film, packed with characters wallowing in self-conscious cool that's as tedious as their anomie, doesn't merit such scrupulous attention.
Written by Marie Noëlle and German director Peter Sehr, and based on a novel by Chinese writer Wang Shuo, the film tracks the grifting ways and cruel means of two longtime friends, Jack and Charlie (Brody and Jon Seda, both appealing), who have grown into contented bottom-feeders. Aided by game young women who like dressing up as prostitutes (but not undressing), and abetted by an oily hotel clerk (August Diehl), Jack and Charlie prey on foreign businessmen who can't tell the difference between New York's finest and its worst. The suckers squire the pretend prostitutes to their room and just when they're about to divest the women of their clothes, Jack and Charlie bust in dressed as vice cops eager to swap a potential collar for a bribe.
Their life of larceny has afforded Jack and Charlie plush bohemian digs in a derelict former bank in the South Bronx, one of the last true frontier neighborhoods. The floor may need sanding and the windows washing, but with their wide-screen television, fashion-forward modernist couch and the usual bourgeois goodies, Jack and Charlie play house with style as they idle away their downtime. But although thieving and hanging out seem good enough for Charlie, Jack possesses the soul of a writer or at least a copy of one of Charles Bukowski's books, which lies conspicuously on his desk as either a promise or a threat. Tucked inside his literary lair, Jack churns out pulp fiction that sounds something like his life, a little like Bukowski at his most hard-boiled and, overall, faintly ridiculous.
Then Jack falls in with a coed named Claire (Charlotte Ayanna) and before long it isn't just his writing that sounds awfully silly. The bad boy cruises the budding scientist at the movie theater where she works and after swapping the sort of insults that lead either to contempt or romance, they become just as bad a couple as you'd expect. He's a heel and a would-be bard of the spuriously romantic lowlife; she's a square -- as well as naive, whiny, clingy and nowhere near as interesting and sympathetic as the director thinks. A movie-of-the-week cliché (college girl gone bad!), Claire drifts along with this phony demimonde until Pam Grier, in a small gem of a role, shows up to smack some sense into everyone. It's too little Grier too late, but it's also fairly satisfying to watch.
'Love the Hard Way'
MPAA rating: Unrated.
Times guidelines: Adult language; partial nudity and violence.
Adrien Brody ... Jack
Charlotte Ayanna ... Claire
Jon Seda ... Charlie
August Diehl ... Jeff
Pam Grier ... Linda Fox
A Kino International release. Director Peter Sehr. Writers Marie Noëlle, Peter Sehr. Based on the book by Wang Shuo. Producer Wolfram Tichy. Cinematographer Guy Dufaux. Editor Christian Nauheimer. Casting Ellen Parks, Sabine Schroth. Production designer Debbie DeVilla. Art director Peter Yesair. Costume designer Kathryn Nixon. Makeup Claus Lulla, Nuria Sitja. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
Exclusively at Landmark's Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 478-6379.