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DVD Review: A Kiss of Chaos

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A Kiss of Chaos, which will be available on DVD February 15, was the winner of the inaugural Soho International Film Festival award for Best Showcase Feature Film in 2010, and if plenty of sex and violence is enough to make you happy, you’ll probably applaud the judges’ decision. On the other hand if you want something more—competent acting, say, or reasonably motivated characters, or a story that engages you emotionally—you may be wondering what on earth the judges were thinking.

Although unrated, the film would more than likely get an “R” for sexual content, nudity, and graphic violence. As far as sex is concerned, you name it and the film probably has it, everything from incest to lesbian and group sex, most of it explicit, some merely suggested. Violence: there are more dead bodies littering the screen than there are in the last act of Hamlet, most of them beaten or tortured before they are killed.

Billed as a Latino thriller, the story concerns five kilos of twice-stolen cocaine which ends up in the hands of the estranged boyfriend of a poetic young woman named Phoenix played by Judy Marte. The somewhat heavy-handed foreshadowing in her name should not go unnoticed. The boyfriend shows up at her apartment with a gunshot wound in his leg and the bag filled with drugs, looking for help, and although she wants no part of him, she lets him stay. Then the story gets complicated. There’s Phoenix’s lesbian girlfriend who is looking for love, and she has a brother who’s been sent to look for the boyfriend with the drugs by the gang he stole them from. There is a plot to steal a safe from another bunch of lowlifes using one of the women as an accomplice. Then, just in case there isn’t enough going on, Phoenix’s HIV-positive sister calls for help with a phony story about how a guy she was with committed suicide.

Some of the actors have turned in some fine performances in the past. Unfortunately, the script here doesn’t give them very much to work with. Phoenix, the ostensible central character in the film, is a good example of the problem. She is supposed to be something of a nascent poet, but all we hear of her poetry is one line from her diary. Perhaps the fact that she keeps a diary is deemed enough of an indication of her artistic talent. We see her on a stage reading, and we see a huge butterfly either painted or tattooed on her back: clearly an indication of her poetic nature. Otherwise she spends a lot of time in the bathtub and remembering a traumatic experience from her childhood. This is not exactly a gold mine of material for an actor.

With a script that relies on stereotypes for characterization, it is not strange that more often than not the actors fall back on mugging and indicating. This is more often true of the less experienced members of the cast. They rarely live in the characters; they look and sound like they’re acting. It is hard to take them seriously. Dialogue often sounds artificial—although when they speak in Spanish, which they sometimes revert to, it does have a more authentic sound.

The artificiality of the acting contrasts with the gritty cityscape that is the mise-en-scène of the film. Whether it is graffiti-filled ghetto streets or run-down abandoned buildings, the settings offers a realism the rest of the film fails to deliver.

Adam Rodriguez of CSI: Miami plays the boss of the group that steals the dope and then has it stolen from them. Stephanie Ortiz plays the lesbian painter, and Manny Perez is her hyperactive loony brother who is sent to look for the drugs. Michael Rivera plays the boyfriend. The wonderfully named Gleendilys Inoa plays Isis, Phoenix’s HIV-stricken sister. Michael K. Williams (Boardwalk Empire, The Wire) has a small part at the beginning as the gang leader from whom the drugs are originally stolen.

The DVD release is in English and Spanish with some English sub-titles. Other than trailers for some other Maya Entertainment films, there are no extras included.

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