Combustible Celluloid
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With: Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser, Stephanie Szostak, James Earl Jones, Dascha Polanco, Emily Meade, Ann Dowd, Candace Smith, Tashiana Washington
Written by: Ron Krauss
Directed by: Ron Krauss
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving mistreatment, some drug content, violence and language - all concerning teens
Running Time: 100
Date: 01/24/2014

Gimme Shelter (2014)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Baby Love

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like many other Disney veterans, Vanessa Hudgens is attempting to shed her sweet, perky High School Musical image with a series of hard-boiled, in-your-face, sexpot roles, in things like Sucker Punch, Machete Kills, and Spring Breakers. Now she gets serious in the based-on-a-true-story drama Gimme Shelter. Hudgens, who is 25, reverts back to age 16 to play a pregnant runaway teen (although she did already play a runaway prostitute in last year's The Frozen Ground).

She wears rage and fear up front. In the opening shot, she hacks away haphazardly at her black hair, leaving a shaggy mop that falls into her face, helping her hide. Like an angry dog, she snaps at anyone who tries to get close, whether helpful or hateful. As the story begins, she tries to escape her vile, cruel mother, played by Rosario Dawson with yellow teeth and a haggard, sinewy look.

Clutching a letter her biological father Tom (Brendan Fraser) wrote to her before she was born, she renames herself "Apple," based on its closing line. Apple decides to find Tom, whom she's never met, hoping for help. She arrives at his opulent home, discovering that he's a wealthy Wall Street trader, with a wife and two younger kids. Learning that she's pregnant, Tom insists that she get an abortion. She dashes out of the clinic, gets into an accident, and winds up in the hospital, where a friendly priest (James Earl Jones) helps check her into a shelter for pregnant teens.

Clearly this is an "issue movie." Writer/director Ron Krauss shows that Apple can't take care of her baby -- she eats out of a dumpster and sleeps in the back of an unlocked car -- but that this is no reason to get an abortion. The religious dialogue isn't overt, though Krauss distills it into the image of a pinwheel, to represent the way winds can change.

Unfortunately, the movie's technique is rather poor. Krauss apparently tried for a "realistic" look, which instead looks sickly and bleached. Moreover, any shot that doesn't involve characters sitting in a room and talking, i.e. any kind of movement, becomes quickly confused.

Gimme Shelter gets its agenda across effectively, but many moments could have used a more graceful touch. Not to mention that nothing ever feels truly hopeless with the rich father as a safety net. Nevertheless, the movie will be worth watching for some viewers, given Hudgens' and Dawson's ferocious performances, hurling themselves at the story as if lives were at stake.

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