dvd review: KILLING ZELDA SPARKS

You have to give credit to Jeff Glickman, his feature film directorial debut is an ambitious movie that never takes an easy approach. This makes Glickman’s Killing Zelda Sparks an interesting film if for no other reason than it has a strong visual sense and a certain audacity that can’t be denied. At the same time, the film is far from perfect, and the innovative and creative choices that set Killing Zelda Sparks apart from other films also serve as stumbling blocks that trip the movie up from time to time.

Vincent Kartheiser and Geoffrey Arend star as Craig Blackshear and Terry Seville, two old friends with a lot of history between them. As the film starts out, it seems as if Craig and Terry have done something terribly wrong. Exactly what they’ve done is not explained right away, instead, the film jumps backwards ten years, to when the two are still in high school. We see that Terry is the consummate nerd, as he’s about to get beat down by a school bully, only to have Craig step in and pulverize the bully for sleeping with his girlfriend. From there, the film jumps around through time as it works to define both Craig and Terry, and their friendship. Years after high school, Craig is pretty much a directionless loser, who still has a hot temper, and has not moved past dating high school girls. Terry has an unfulfilling jump at the local community newspaper, is in a relationship that seems devoid of passion, and when push comes to shove, his life is about as pathetic as his friend’s.

Craig’s life seems to be spiraling out of control when he loses his job, and his relationship with high school senior Ellen (Krystin Pellerin) is on the rocks. Things take a turn for the worse when Zelda Sparks (Sarah Carter) strolls back into his life. With a heart of stone, ice water coursing through her veins, and a body to kill for, Zelda is a girl who chewed Craig up and spit him out—multiple times—in high school. And with Zelda back in town, it seems like his life can’t get any worse. That’s when Terry hatches a plan to get revenge on Zelda by humiliating her in the town newspaper, which seems to backfire when she is apparently murdered, leaving the two life-long friends as the prime suspects.

Killing Zelda Sparks moves back and forth through time, and employs various narrative tricks to create a surreal, often dream-like story that could have just as easily been told in a more straightforward, linear story. Instead, director Glickman seems to be going out of his way to craft a film that defies many of the conventions of similar darkly comedic, neo-noir thrillers. At times, the movie feels like it wants to be a Coen Brothers film, but is uncertain of how to get there, and instead stumbles along on its way.

This is not to say that Killing Zelda Sparks is a bad film, because it has good moments, and it certainly does not play it safe. But the film’s good moments are not held together with the strongest of connective tissue, and at approximately 95-minutes, the film feels both too long, and as if it could use more time to flesh things out. A ton of time is spent between Craig and Terry, but ultimately we never get any real sense of why these guys were ever friends, or why they’ve remained friends. Likewise, none of the other relationships are explored that deeply—at least not deeply enough to get any sense that there is actually history between any of these people.

By the time Killing Zelda Sparks gets around to the heart of the story, the film has lost much of its steam. When Terry plants a fake story in the paper about the murder of Zelda, things start to fall apart. First of all, how is a story about her death supposed to humiliate her? That little twist makes practically no sense whatsoever, and comes across as a contrived plot hook to propel the story further, which it does—clumsily though it may be—when Zelda is apparently killed. When this finally happens, well into the third act, the film takes on a twist or two that is supported flimsily at best by the story thus far. As the film comes closer to the end, sticking it out to watch the conclusion is more out of the obligation of having watched it up to this point, and not any sense of real curiosity.
Killing Zelda Sparks is not a bad film, just a good film that tries to hard to be quirky and innovative, which comes at the expense of the story and the characters. The film is entertaining and engaging enough to capture your interest, but it has a tough time maintaining it.

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