Looking back on the summer that defined his youth, the artist and narrator seems vaguely, inexplicably bitter. “There’s always some (blank-off) standing in judgment of what you do,” he gripes, as a younger version of himself scribbles landscapes in a sketchbook.
Since the narrator is writer-director George Gallo, and since the story is based on Gallo’s real-life adventures as an aspiring artist, I guess that blank-off is me, or you, or anybody who goes into “Local Color” prepared — one must always be prepared! — not to like it.
Here’s what I did like about “Local Color”: Armin Mueller-Stahl, whose throaty, wizened personage made for top-notch villainy in David Cronenberg’s recent “Eastern Promises.” Whenever the Prussian actor appears on the screen, it’s like getting a grandfatherly taste of Old Europe, even when he’s playing, as in “Eastern Promises,” the kind of grandfather who runs brothels for the Russian mob.
As reclusive genius Nicoli Seroff, a character based on late Lithuanian impressionist painter George Cherepov, Mueller-Stahl is golden again, if a bit less diabolical. Sucking down vodka, tossing around salty epithets, passionately defending the role of sentiment in art, Seroff roars out of the gate like a cross between Sean Connery’s shut-in author in “Finding Forrester” and Bela Lugosi in “Ed Wood.”
More to the point, he’s exactly the kind of irreverent art-prophet to whom working-class teenager John Talia Jr. (Sean Penn look-alike Trevor Morgan) wants to attach himself. Ray Liotta plays John’s hidebound, homophobic father, who refuses to let his son spend the summer in New Hampshire taking painting lessons from the creepy old coot. Clearly, this is not the most artistically supportive household on the planet. “Son, do you like girls?” the father asks, warily eyeing the nude male forms on John’s wall.
So what’s not to like about “Local Color”? Well, mechanically speaking, there’s the generic scoring and banal pastoral imagery, as if one were watching a two-hour Cialis commercial. Moreover, Gallo — who directed “Dysfunktional Family” and wrote the scripts for “Midnight Run” and “The Whole Ten Yards” — has a bad habit of taking comedic easy exits. Case in point: A ridiculous scene at a gallery in which Seroff pooh-poohs a bunch of preposterous modern art. And, yes, the art really IS preposterous. We can see that. How much more sad and interesting it might have been had Seroff blown a classicist fuse over some good stuff he didn’t understand.
Ultimately, we’re left with a groping near-comedy that leaves precious little opportunity for interpretation or insight. In short, the kind of movie that Seroff — were he a real man and not a fictionalized version of Gallo’s late mentor — probably wouldn’t like very much. And I know I’m a blank-off for saying it.
REVIEW | "Local Color"
Cast: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ray Liotta, Trevor Morgan
Behind the scenes: Written and directed by George Gallo
Rated: R (for profanity), 99 minutes