Not only has rebellion been a perennial part of teenage life but it has also been a main stay of film. We have all seen the flicks, disillusioned teens cross the firmly defined cultural lines to the chagrin of their parents and the endangerment of their young lives. One of the latest entries to this sub-genre is Havoc. The only real noteworthy place this film has in cinematic history is that is includes rather adult performances from actors better know for family faire. Other than that the topics have been covered in a much more convincing manner is several other films. Allison (Anne Hathaway) is a girl from an affluent family who resides in the Palisades area of Los Angels. She refers to her parents as ‘latch key parents’ since they are rarely at home. Most of the communication between her father Stuart (Michael Biehn) and mother Joanna (Laura San Giacomo) are via neatly written notes on the fridge with messages like ‘promise to make love at least once a week’. Allison and her friends manifest their disrespect for their social and economic status by emulating the ‘gangsta’ culture prevalent in the black and Hispanic neighborhoods. While this normally is a more or less harmless affectation of posturing in front of each other the charade soon turns more realistic and increasingly dangerous.
While out cruising Allison’s boyfriend Toby (Mike Vogel) wants to head down to the roughest part of East LA to score some drugs. Encouraged by his stoner toady friend Sam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) they head to the dark streets of the barrio. The met up with a dealer Hector (Freddy Rodríguez) and the deal goes terribly wrong. When Toby feels the bag of drugs is light he gets out of the car to confront Hector. Hector beats Toby and threatens him with a gun. Toby responds by urinating on himself as Allison looks on. Allison becomes infatuated with Hector and takes her girl friends Amanda (Shiri Appleby), Sasha (Alexis Dziena) and best friend Emily (Bijou Phillips) downtown in hopes of hooking up with Hector. Sasha and Amada are scared off after one party but Allison and Emily continue to try to insinuate themselves into the real gang that Hector is part of. Eventually Allison and Emily ask to join the gang. They are told that they have to each take a roll of the dice and have sex with that many gang members. Allison rolls a one but Emily gets a three. The girls soon find out that this is far more serious than giving their boyfriends oral sex in the back of the car. Consensual sex soon turns into something much closer to rape. Allison and Emily discover the gritty reality of the ‘gangsta’ life and just how far it is from their pretend version.
Many films have explored the themes of rebellion, teen angst and disillusionment far better than this one. The characters are predicable and one dimensional. There is little in the way of character development going on here. Sure, there are personality changes, Allison becomes more serious, Emily makes rape charges and the idealized pretend world is shattered. The one way we know this is the girls start to wear sweat suits instead of the hip-hop wannbe clothes. The one piece of realistic dialogue comes from Hector when Allison confronts him after the rape. He tells Allison right out that they are not even emulating real barrio culture, only the weakened down version of it shown on mainstream television. One character that had potential, Eric (Matt O'Leary) is completely underused. He is the geek that does not participate in the dress up and chronicles events with his video camera. When Allison starts to strip and masturbate in front of him he is noticeably embarrassed asking her to stop. He should have been used more as a touch stone to the real social environment of the wannbes, as the one that Allison can turn to after her pretend world turns too real. At least he could have been use as a Greek Chorus in the narrative. The conclusion is too predictable with an almost forced lesson for the audience to learn.
It seems that 99 percent of what is written about this film concerns the nude scenes of the previously pure as driven snow Ms Hathaway. Most of the pre-teen and younger set knows Anne Hathaway for her performances in the ‘Princess Diaries’ flicks and ‘Ella Enchanted’. It is almost a required rite of passage for young actresses to take a role completely against type to make the transition to adult parts. Okay, those bumps under her Disney costumes are breasts; we’ve all seen them now so can this talented young woman get back to making movies that allow her to act? Hathaway has a real flair for comedy and while it is good she is stretching her acting abilities she should be able to find roles that do not resort to such puerile scenes as this film. Actually, the cast here is excellent it’s just the vehicle falls short. Bijou Phillips is basically reprising her role from Bully as a young woman that wants to have sex, do drugs and talk tough but is unable to face the consequences. Shiri Appleby, best known for her role on Roswell, is the girl of the group who is unsure of the course they are taking. She is the one that tries to get out of the situation but submits to peer pressure. Alexis Dziena is starting to define her career with teen on the edge roles. Here she does well with the limited screen time offered to her. Freddy Rodríguez is a long way from his role in the late HBO series Six Feet Under. Here he plays the gang member realistically with some force and drive. He portrays Hector as a man who knows the streets. When these white girls from up town want to hang out he lets them with the proverbial ‘one thing on his mind’ that all mothers warn their daughters about. There is no need to even mention the adult roles; they have almost no impact in the story at all. The Wa-wa of adult voices in the Peanuts cartoons has more involvement.
This film was directed Oscar winning documentary maker, Barbara Kopple. Unfortunately, her talents did not take hold here. Kopple also has a background with such gritty television drama as Oz and Homicide but appears to be unable to show the pretense of the up town kids in a realistic fashion. It might have served the film more if Kopple highlighted the juxtaposition between the wannbe and real gang members. Kopple does do well with the flow and pacing of the film. The plot moves in a fairly natural manner. The audience can watch as Allison descends deeper and deeper into a life she is unprepared to actual live. When Allison sees Toby stand up to some local Hispanic kids she thinks that he has it all together but this illusion is smashed as she watches the urine flow down Toby’s leg as he knees in front of Hector. There is little balance in the story and even less in the way of explanation. Most teens think their parents are lame but this is little reason to go out and do drugs with gang members.
The DVD presentation of this film is excellent. Considering it is from New Line Cinema I would expect nothing less. Say what you will about the film but New Line gives the best attention to all their releases. The video is far above the average, especially for a film that basically went direct to video. The color balance is almost too good. Considering the strengths of the director a gritty, documentary style may have been better. The audio is provided in Dolby 5.1, DTS and Dolby Stereo. Both of the six channel tracks offer excellent audio reproduction. The tracks are set to a higher gain than usual so the sound really pounds out of the speakers. The DTS track did have a heavier bass response especially noticeable with the hip-hip sound track. The film is not all that bad and is worth a watch for fans of the teen angst genre.