J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Bay: Barry Levinson Finds Some Eco-Terror Footage

Evidently, chicken and seafood are not such a good mix after all.  It seems the local poultry processing plant has been dumping the cluckers’ waste and entrails into the Chesapeake Bay.  All the hormones and genetic boosters mixed with a little radiation have had a nasty effect on the isopods.  The resulting bio-scare is documented by a rookie reporter and scads of random handheld devices in Barry Levinson’s massively disappointing The Bay (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

In her online introduction, former journalism intern Donna Thompson ominously explains to the audience they are about to see the truth the government tried to cover up.  Fortunately, the g-men never ran a simple web search, which would have brought up a good chunk of the film we are about to sit through.  It is the Fourth of July in Claridge, Maryland, but all is not well.  Large schools of fish have washed up dead.  Then humans start showing alarming symptoms.

With a good part of his town breaking out in boils and coughing up stomach lining, Mayor Stockman reacts by going into full stonewalling mode.  We know he must be a bad guy, because he has nice things to say about business.  His name is Stock Man, that says it all, doesn’t?  However, the overworked emergency room doctor duly notifies Homeland Security, who spring into action half a day later.  Okay, that part we can buy into.

The found footage genre usually has weak characterization, because the conceit does not allow for much getting-to-you development, but The Bay hits a new low.  As much as we are supposed to hiss at Mayor Stockman, he is the film’s most distinctive personality.  Aside from some rueful self-deprecating remarks, the audience gets absolutely no sense of Thompson as an individual.  Yet, though she seems to be the protagonist, she hardly figures in any of the action.

It is a problem when a film’s climax sneaks past you, but that is exactly what happens in The Bay when the credits start to role after a brief voiceover attempts to tie up the rat’s nest of loose ends.  In contrast, anyone seeing North By Northwest for the first time will realize it is do or die time when Cary Grant is hanging off Mount Rushmore.  Of course, Hitchcock’s film is a classic and Levinson’s genre outing is a didactic snooze.

Anything can be forgiven in an effective creature feature, but The Bay hardly has any narrative arc to it, whatsoever, and no real suspense to speak of.  It is truly surprising a consistently commercial director like Levinson (Bugsy, Diner, Good Morning Vietnam) could helm such an inert, lifeless film, but here it is.  A dud on every level, The Bay is not recommended at all when it opens this Friday (11/2) in New York at the IFC Center.

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