The Architect has an interesting core concept, but buries it under implausible and uninteresting subplots that doom the picture to obscurity. Anthony LaPaglia stars as a successful veteran architect presented with a plan to destroy one of his early designs: project housing in the 'hood that has become a haven for crime in the intervening years. This creates an intriguing dilemma for him as he's faced with the decision of whether to protect his creation and artistic vision or embrace the moral and popular movement to destroy it. It's a great launching point for an insightful look into a number of topics including race relations, art vs. morality, and nature vs. nurture, but the film largely bypasses any attempt to explore the basic idea and instead detours into family drama.
LaPaglia's family consists of his frigid, neurotic wife, his seemingly normal son and a daughter with major daddy issues. His wife is played by a completely miscast Isabella Rossellini, exhibiting absolutely no chemistry with him or even any believability that there could have ever been any chemistry. She spends her days moping around the house with nothing to do, apparently to gain our pity about how bad she has it as a pampered housewife living in luxury. She could completely disappear from the film and not be missed in the least.
His son seems fairly balanced at first, but when he learns about dad's project housing problem he heads out to explore it for himself and ends up exploring his sexuality instead. As he enters the ghetto, he's almost immediately approached by a totally unbelievable character: a sensitive young man from the housing project who just naturally assumes that the son is looking for gay love and continues to help him even when advised that he's not. This kid listens to corny rock, likes men, and hangs out with the white boy, but we're supposed to believe that he's able to exist seemingly unscathed in his hardcore, crime-ridden environment. The resolution to this subplot comes completely out of left field, definitely resolving the storyline but certainly not providing any satisfaction or logic.
And then there's LaPaglia's daughter, played by rising star Hayden Panettiere (NBC's Heroes). Panettiere’s character has come to an age where she's ready to explore her sexuality, which in her case involves sneaking into a bar, hitting on the first and second sketchy guys who pay her any interest, then hitching a ride in bachelor number two's big rig. We're expected to believe that he refuses her advances during a tearful interlude that has her uttering priceless dialogue along the lines of "why don't you think I'm pretty enough to have sex with?" It's brutal, but it gets even worse.
Once she's safely back home, and completely out of any context, dad enters her bedroom to proclaim that he thinks he might have touched her inappropriately earlier in her life. She nonchalantly acknowledges it, and dad exits her room. Huh? The film hinted at some impropriety, mostly through her Lolita-esque sexual exploration, but just dropping that bombshell out of the blue and then returning to business as usual completely obliterates any attempt at reason or resolution. On the upside, Panettiere makes the most of her confusing role, putting in another strong performance in her blossoming career.
As if we didn't have our hands full enough with LaPaglia's family drama, the head of the movement to destroy the housing project also has her own family issues. Viola Davis brings a subdued strength to her role as the resident fighting for change, but her character isn’t given much to do in the film. Just in case we had any doubt about her motivation for destroying her home, her daughter blatantly explains to her and the audience that the home is a bitter reminder of Davis’s dead son and she just wants to bury the area for selfish reasons, not any moral crusade. This unnecessary revelation is another example of the clumsy writing and direction that negate any goodwill generated by the solid performances of Davis, LaPaglia, and Panettiere.
Since the subplots are mishandled so badly, it's no surprise that the potentially interesting main plotline is also fumbled. When LaPaglia is first approached by Davis with the request to sign her petition to destroy the projects, she tells him that Oprah already signed it. Hey, he's the creator, but who cares when a world famous celebrity has already blessed the movement? When he later makes his final decision regarding the petition, we learn more surprising news indicating that his input was never really required. If his decision didn't matter, what was the point of the film? It could be argued that the object was the journey of self-discovery, not the destination, but the character engaged in precious little soul-searching or resulting enlightenment for the audience, so this journey wasn't worth taking.
The film was based on an earlier play and seemingly gains nothing by its move to the screen. It’s currently in limited theatrical release in direct conjunction with its DVD release, so interested viewers have their choice of screening forum.
Written by Caballero Oscuro