“Asthma” opens with a jolt as our protagonist, Gus (Benedict Samuel), steps off a chair with a noose around his neck, dripping with the white paint he’s smeared around his loft in a fit of manic ennui. It’s a daring thesis statement for a film about disaffected urban youth and their misadventures
Surviving the ordeal, Gus plunges deeper into the self-destructive behavior of a New York City hipster — stealing cars and copping heroin. He cons fetching tattoo artist Ruby (Krysten Ritter) into a stolen Rolls-Royce, offering her a ride to Connecticut. Ruby’s got a gig tattooing musician Logan (Dov Tiefenbach) at his country house, which has serious culty vibes, thanks to New Age-y guru Ragen (Goran Visnjic in an Adam Duritz wig).
Shockingly, Gus isn’t the greatest house guest. He’s a jealous, selfish junkie tormented by his own demons, which take the form of a wolf man voiced by Nick Nolte. Director Jake Hoffman (son of Dustin) might know of privileged, rebellious youth, but asking the audience to identify with the hapless Gus is a tall order. The real hero here is Ruby, astute and gorgeous, and you wonder why she doesn’t cut this loser loose. As a director, Hoffman’s influences show on screen, from the seedy, underworld charms of 1970s New Hollywood to go-nowhere conversational moments that feel decidedly of the 1990s slacker indie classics. The soundtrack is fantastic and Samuel eminently watchable, but “Asthma” suffers from near-lethal doses of self-satisfied hipness.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes,
Playing: Sundance Sunset