It’s an inauspicious coincidence that August runs 88 minutes long. While the film’s premise is more Wall Street than Dog Day Afternoon, August and 88 Minutes are comrades-in-stupid. Together, they represent a new, indefensible breed of bad movie. These are genre films with marquee actors and modest budgets that have scripts so amateurish, incoherent, and illogical that it poisons everything and everyone associated with the film.
The difference between August and 88 Minutes is that the latter starred Al Pacino, an actor with more than enough of a track record to be given a pass for a lone flop. August, on the other hand, stars Josh Hartnett, a young actor with an inconsistent career in desperate need of an unqualified hit. Hartnett at least tries to go in a new direction by taking on a Gordon Gekko meets Mark Zuckerberg kind of role. Yet, his performance is so painful to watch — and he gets no help by screenwriter Howard Rodman — that you’re reminded that the actor’s breakthrough came with Pearl Harbor.
August focuses on a hotshot tech mogul of Web 1.0 who, after skyrocketing onto the scene in March of 2001, has seen his fortunes erode to 1% of their peak by August. The film’s trailer makes it seem like he spends the month trying to build his fortune back, but don’t be deceived. There’s no attempt to regain fortunes, or even any plot conflict to make you believe its possible. Hartnett’s Tom Sterling, CEO of Landshark, talks a big game, but has no authority to back it up. Sterling’s like an 8-year-old who tries to be a bully but just ends up looking even more pathetic.
In fact, everything about Landshark suggests childishness. Tom’s immaturity is matched by his awkward, nebbishy, kid slang-using brother Joshua (a completely lost Adam Scott), his employees whose average age must be about 15, and Robin Tunny and Andre Royo as annoyed fellow executives. It’s one thing for a movie to focus on a poorly-run company. It’s another when a non-farcical movie presents a company so hopelessly incompetent, employed by workers with no skills to speak of (and equally ineffective acting skills), and then expects you to believe this company could be worth $100 million.
The workings of Landshark are much closer to a bunch of grade schoolers playing business. In perhaps the most telling scenes of the childishness of the characters, a scene which is obnoxiously intentional, Tom and Josh meet at a strip club, but rather than stare at breasts, they’d rather play pinball. The closing scene of the film has the two actors returning to the pinball machine, fighting over who gets the next game.
The premise of August is marginally interesting, if for nothing else than it occurs with the shadow of 9/11 hanging over it and could make some interesting points about overeager tech investors. The problem occurs within the fundamental execution of this premise. August would have been much better, or at least competent, if it was called March-August, focusing on the rise and fall of a tech company with a little too much hubris. In its actual form, Landshark is doomed from the start, and you spend the entire film knowing it’s going to crumble, if not before 9/11, then after.
If the film wins any Razzies, which it certainly could, I’d like to propose a new category for which it would be a lock: Most Gratuitous Use of David Bowie. Bowie plays Cyrus Ogilvie, something of a gender-bending Mr. Burns, who eventually takes over Landshark and buys Tom out. Bowie, along with Rip Torn as Tom’s Yosemite Sam-resembling father, is at least in touch enough to play the role with a level of camp silliness reflective of the silliness of the film. There may be some intended significance to Tom being the only one to cash out before 9/11, considering that Ogilvie’s office is located in the World Trade Center. Yet the film is too incoherent to make that point, and considering that Tom is bought out at 15% of market value of a stock that’s already under a dollar per share, morality is insignificant anyway.
The film’s allusions to Marshall McLuhan and Un Chien Andalou seems like its filmmakers were going, “Look at us! We’re cultured!” Rodman, a professor at USC, should know better than to tell rather than show. His previous screenplay was the recently released Savage Grace, which received mediocre reviews, but was based on a much better book with a lot of quality source material to work with. He seems lost on his own. Equally lost are director Austin Chick and especially editor Pete Beaudreau, who have included multiple scenes that agonizingly extend for minutes too long and ultimately go nowhere. The filmmakers are just as childish and amateur as Tom and Josh themselves.
When I was walking out of theater, wondering how a film like this could ever make it to the screen, I immediately got my answer. Two females in their early twenties were walking behind me, and one of them stated “it was pretty bad, but he [Harnett]’s just so cute though.” Not only are Josh Hartnett’s looks the only reason anyone could justify seeing August, but they’re also the only thing that can salvage Hartnett’s career at this point. There’s been some debate as to whether or not Hartness is, or can be, a skilled actor. August answers the question with a commanding “no.” He just better pray that he ages well.
In theaters July 11. Starring Josh Hartnett (Tom Sterling), Adam Scott (Joshua Sterling), Robin Tunney (Melanie Hanson), Andre Royo (Dylan Gottschalk), Rip Torn (David Sterling), and David Bowie (Cyrus Ogilvie). Directed bu Austin Chick. Written by Howard A. Rodman. Still photography by Jessica Miglio Distributed by First Look Pictures. The film is Rated R.Powered by Sidelines