BAD IMPULSE – Review
This time of year family’s at the forefront of the thoughts of many. Aside from being together (tough right now for some), the matriarch or patriarch is thinking about how to keep the home crew safe from harm and secure in their toasty beds. Unlike the Garrity clan from this week’s other big release GREENLAND, the Sharpe’s (well, mainly the papa) isn’t dealing with a planet-killing comet. His fears arise from the possible onslaught of stealthy intruders in the dead of night. It’s too bad that he doesn’t recall the quote from one of the founding fathers (maybe more of a cool uncle), Ben Franklin: “Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”. Still, it probably didn’t occur to him that his fears could inspire his whole “unit” to succumb to a BAD IMPULSE.
The story does indeed begin (well, after a nasty vignette of homicide/suicide) with the wholesome, seemingly happy Sharpe family outside their two-story plush home on this sunny day. Mom Christine (Sonya Walger) is trying to get on the road for a day trip with her eldest daughter, sixteen-year-old Angela (Abbi Ford), and her two sons, fourteen-year-old Mike (Nicholas Danner) and eight-year-old Sam (Oscar Debler). Dad Henry (Grant Bowler) can’t join them this time, though. Tonight’s a big “one on one” dinner with his boss (perhaps a promotion). Just as he goes back into the house he hears a knock at the door. It’s a somber middle-aged stranger dressed in a black suit and fedora. He introduces himself as Lou Branch (Paul Sorvino) and asks Henry if they could discuss his home’s security system. Branch insists it’s the state of the art hi-tech, but Henry’s got to get going and takes his card after the “pitch”. Dinner with his boss Mr. Reilly (Dan Lauria) ends abruptly when the real reason for the night is revealed. It seems that the company has lost a lot of money on a bad investment made for their biggest client. Reilly and the board decided that somebody has to take the blame, so….Despite the offer of a big “under the table” pay-off for silence, Henry angrily storms out. He’s so enraged he doesn’t hear the group of thugs that push their way in as he opens his front door. They deliver a vicious beating which causes Henry to awaken in the hospital. This spurs him to sign up with Branch’s security company. He, along with his wife, kids, and their live-in nanny/maid/cook Lucia (Stephanie Cayo) get microchips implanted under the skin, close to their permanent ankle “bracelets” which interact with the many mounted wall monitors in the home. Things slowly get back to normal, but only for a while. Sam now squashes ants for fun, while brother Mike retreats into his violent “single shooter” video games as he deals with several school bullies. Meanwhile, Angela’s getting tattoos and shoplifting. Christine (now the main breadwinner) is indulging in an office affair, as Henry boils with rage as he begins his at-home sales gig (maybe Lucia now digs this about him). Hmmm…could there be more to Branch’s “tech” than mere home security?
We can almost sense the strained effort of the cast to overcome this turgid trite tale of a self-destructing family unit. Bowler tries to roll “with the flow” of his inconsistent character. First, he’s got to be the easy-going 80s TV dad (cue the laugh track), then gets to nearly froth at the mouth at the big job dinner. He’s pretty dazed after the beating (head trauma is hinted at), but he eases into phone sales before lashing out with little reason. Then Bowler seems to be falling back into a SHINING riff as the punishing “Daddy-monster”. He does try to sell it, but it makes little sense. Ditto for the talented Walger (forever Penny of TV’s “Lost”) whose Christine is the perfect working mom, but her professional exec persona morphs into a petty “Queen B”, jealous of her flirty aide and too receptive to the “company creep”. Ford introduces Angela as the cute shy gal yearning to be the knock-out that catches the eye of the “school hunk”, but her character changes into one that would seem too much of a clichéd teen “B-girl” in a reboot of the POISON IVY flicks. In the case of Danner’s Mike, he conveys the fearful air of the perfect “patsy” for the school predator, but there’s little motivation for his attempts to bribe the bully before finally acting on his video game alter ego. And Debler’s Sam has little to do until he’s the “tot in danger’ for the story’s finale. Oh, 15 minutes in we’re introduced to the unofficial family member as Cayo plays a caretaker who appears to have stepped right off the fashion show runway. She seems to be there only as a temptation for papa, as we wonder about her aggressive pursuit of him as he naps on the couch. As for the biggest “name” in the cast, Sorvino tries to bring a bit of sinister energy to Branch but comes off as a cross between Willy Loman and a menacing 1930s school headmaster (with a touch of Mitchum from NIGHT OF THE HUNTER). He looks to be trouble right on Henry’s doorstep, so it hard to fathom why he places so much trust in this somber sad-eyed salesman. And to make the whole thing a tad more strange and “arty”, James Landry Hebert (the giggly tire deflator in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD) pops up in multiple creepy small roles, usually leering at Angela.
Director Michelle Danner attempts to wring some drama from the predictable script from Jason Chase Tyrrell, but the film is often just “spinning its wheels” until the big “surprise” climax we can see coming from miles away. Perhaps they were hoping for an “edgier” take on THE SHINING or AMERICAN BEAUTY, but it feels like a very drawn-out episode of a second-tier TV anthology like “The Hitchhiker” or “Tales of the Unexpected”. The movie wants to stun and shock, but often chooses to wallow in clumsy ugliness. If you’re thinking about spending 100 minutes (and the VOD fee) on this, do your best to squelch that extremely BAD IMPULSE.
One Half Out of Four
BAD IMPULSE is available as a Video-On-Demand via most streaming apps and platforms