Friday January 20, 1995
Ready for another movie about how the media are wrecking our lives? "S.F.W.," which was originally scheduled for release last year, is a low-grade, grunge companion piece to "Natural Born Killers." Based on the novel by Andrew Wellman, and directed and co-written by Jefery Levy, it wallops the audience with mega-heavy-metal boom-boom theatrics. There hasn't been this much attitude in a movie since--well, since "Natural Born Killers." And, in its own small-scale way, it's just about as aggravating.
The film's conceit is that a small-town working-class teen-ager, Cliff Spab ("Backbeat's" Stephen Dorff) can rise to cult-hero status by displaying his arrogant anomie in the face of danger. It all begins when Cliff and his buddy Joe (Jack Noseworthy), along with three other shoppers including the well-off Wendy (Reese Witherspoon), are taken hostage in a convenience-store holdup.
The gang, armed not only with weapons but with video cameras, demand that their tapes of the crisis be aired on network TV (in retrospect a particularly poignant demand in light of all the new networks on the horizon). Spab becomes a hero by playing up to the camera and flaunting his nihilism. His slogan--So F---ing What--becomes his generation's motto. He becomes an anti-celebrity celebrity.
Why did the gang want the crisis aired? Is Spab genuinely bummed out or just scamming? Are his followers cretins or crusading renegades? "S.F.W." isn't big on answers, perhaps because it's not big on questions. As Spab becomes caught up in a media circus that encompasses T-shirts, coffee mugs, CDs, FBI agents, talk-show hosts, corrupt parents and even more corrupt politicians, his odyssey of redemption becomes more and more gratingly self-righteous.
Levy works in lots of ear-splitting rock and sound effects, and switches back and forth from film to video, but all his fancy footwork can't disguise the bug-eyed narcissism and soppy sentimentality at the core of this story. Spab affects Jesus-like poses but the film seems to be endorsing his own deification. And, despite trace elements of satire, Spab's approach-avoidance amorousness with Wendy is just as twinkly and bogus as anything in "Love Story." "S.F.W." is trying for the same thing Spab is: It wants to become a cult smash by mainlining the Zeitgeist.
It hits the wrong vein.
S.F.W., 1995. R, for pervasive strong language, scenes of brutal violence, constant drug and alcohol abuse and some sexuality. A Gramercy Pictures release. Director Jefery Levy. Producer Dale Pollock. Executive producer Sigurjon Sighvatsson. Screenplay by Levy and Danny Rubin. Cinematographer Peter Deming. Editor Lauren Zuckerman. Costumes Debra McGuire. Music Graeme Revell. Production design Eve Cauley. Set decorator Sandy Struth. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Stephen Dorff as Cliff Spab. Reese Witherspoon as Wendy Pfister. Jake Busey as Morrow Streeter. Jack Noseworthy as Joe Dice.