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With: Adrien Brody, Charlotte Ayanna, Jon Seda, Pam Grier, August Diehl
Written by: Marie Noelle, Peter Sehr, based on a novel by Wang Shuo
Directed by: Peter Sehr
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language and violence
Running Time: 104
Date: 08/08/2001

Love the Hard Way (2003)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Love Story Dies 'Hard'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Now that Adrien Brody has won his Oscar, many moviegoers will no doubt want to explore the rest of his filmography. And with good reason: besides his copious talents, he has those smoldering looks. He has a dangerous, youthful energy and a silky, brooding quality meshed with a sense of city and streets and concrete.

But Brody has not always been blessed with good luck; a masterpiece like The Pianist is a rare exception on his resume. He has a fairly sizable part in Steven Soderbergh's overrated King of the Hill and a decent role in Barry Levinson's cuddly Liberty Heights, but the rest of his career leaves something to be desired.

He was in the least interesting movies from both Spike Lee and Ken Loach (Summer of Sam and Bread and Roses), was cut from The Thin Red Line, stars in a straight-to-cable wonder called Restaurant, as well as a host of other disposables from Angels in the Outfield to Harrison's Flowers and The Affair of the Necklace.

Now the good folks at Kino -- an otherwise intelligent and reputable distributor -- have decided to unearth one more of Brody's forgettable items (we'll call them stepping stones on his way to success), Love the Hard Way.

Based on a Japanese cult novel, Love the Hard Way gives Brody the role of Jack, a small-time thief with his own code of ethics. He keeps an "office" in a storage facility where he writes down his thoughts. Jack's self-confidence and oozing cool -- and his snakeprint jacket -- make him a cinch with the ladies.

His latest conquest is the beautiful Claire (Charlotte Ayanna), an honor student who works part-time at New York's Screening Room movie theater (playing David Gordon Green's outstanding George Washington of all things).

Jack charms Claire into the obligatory one-night stand, but she expects more and keeps showing up. Jack keeps sending mixed signals; he tries to dump her while being sweet and encouraging to her.

Meanwhile, Jack continues with his crime of choice. He and his partner Charlie (Jon Seda) use their contact Jeff (August Diehl) to find out where foreign businessmen are staying in a local hotel. They arrange for fake prostitutes to come to the room, then Jack and Charlie bust in dressed as cops, shake down the victims and leave with a pile of "confiscated" loot.

So it goes that the more Claire hangs around with Jack, the more trouble she gets herself into. She gets arrested after a nightclub brawl, and she attends class less and less. After Jack finally dumps her, she turns to prostitution (!) as a way of hurting him.

Eventually a slick cop (Pam Grier) finally catches up with the criminals, and Jack decides to write a book (!).

Brody gives the role everything he's got. It almost plays as a test reel or a calling card for something bigger. But such a volatile presence needs control, and director Peter Sehr doesn't fine-tune either the character or the performance enough to keep it from burning out and self-destructing. (The movie could have used a director like Nicholas Ray, who was more in touch with damaged souls like this.)

Likewise, Sehr can't make us believe that Claire would take such an erratic turn in behavior, then return to her honor-student life with no repercussions.

Not to mention that Sehr doesn't seem to know how to end his movie, or whether to give it a happy or a sad ending. Even the characters know enough to choose one: at one point, while trying to seduce her, Jack asks Claire her preference. "Sad," she answers. Maybe Sehr was trying for another kind of sad -- as in pathetic.

Brody fans would do better to rent his excellent and underrated 1999 suspense film, Oxygen, which was recently released on a deluxe new DVD -- complete with the actor's commentary voiceover.

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