In the all-too-aptly named "Floundering," James Le Gros plays John Boyz, an unemployed Venice layabout whose life, with the L.A. riots as backdrop, is unraveling. He shambles through life as a kind of activist voyeur. He keeps apart from the street life around him but the life keeps messing up his own anyway. He walks in on his sometime girlfriend (Lisa Zane) making love to another man; he watches home videos of the riot and then gets chummy with some crackhead revolutionaries on his apartment stoop. He fantasizes constantly, chugs beer, tries to talk his crazed brother (a surprisingly powerful Ethan Hawke) into going back into drug rehab. The IRS seizes his savings.
Peter McCarthy, the producer-writer-director of this micro-budgeted swatch of anomie, is better at dry, deadpan wit than righteous rage. But the wit is in short supply. (And sometimes it's leaden, as in the repeated interviews with bad-guy L.A. police chief "Merryl Fence"--guess who?) McCarthy produced Alex Cox's "Repo Man" and "Sid and Nancy" and he's trying here for some of the same funky, desultory poetry, along with a healthy dollop of Social Consciousness. He doesn't quite have the skills for the job.
When John, in one of his frequent voice-over diary entries, tells us, "I'm a rationalist and I'm a romanticist," you may be tempted to offer your own assessment. John is a drag. Le Gros is very good at playing draggy characters, so at least "Floundering" has a real actor at its center. Without him it would be pretty rough going.
* MPAA rating: Unrated. Times guidelines: It contains mild sex and scenes of L.A. riots and drug abuse. 'Floundering'
James LeGros: John
Ethan Hawke: Jimmy
Steve Buscemi: Ned
Lisa Zane: Jessica
A Strand releasing presentation of a film by Peter McCarthy. Producer, written and directed by Peter McCarthy. Cinematographer Denis Maloney. Editors Dody Dorn, Peter McCarthy. Jill Starr Sharaf. Music Pray For Rain. Set decorator Lisa Monti. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.
* In limited release at the Laemmle's Sunset 5, Sunset Boulevard at Crescent Heights, West Hollywood, (213) 848-3500, and Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741.