Monday, October 29, 2007

Movie Review: Premium

The film Premium tries to combine two seemingly incompatible types of films into one. It's part Hollywood satire in the vein of Hollywood Shuffle and part romantic drama about a man who's forced to grow up if he wants to get anywhere in life.

The main character of Premium is Reggie “Cool” Coolidge (Dorian Missick). Cool is a struggling actor who lives with his mother (Tonya Pinkins) and her boyfriend Phil (Frankie Faison). While auditions for parts, hoping they'll be something other than stereotypes, he works at Phil's gas station as an attendant. It's here that he encounters his childhood friend (and ex-fiancee) Charli (Zoe Saldana). Charli's in town because she's about to get married. Cool escorts Charli home after a freak hit-and-run accident involving her car and meets Ed (Hill Harper), her new fiancee. Things go downhill for Cool before they get better as he tries to deal with his feelings for Charli, more bad auditions, and other changes in his life.

Given the ambitious mix of satire and romantic drama, it makes sense that Premium has a lot working for it and and a lot working against it. The cast is pretty strong. Dorian Missick anchors the movie as Cool and does a great job. Rising star Zoe Saldana, recently cast as Uhura in the next Star Trek movie, also puts in nice work in her role as a woman torn between her former love and her current one. The supporting cast also does fine work here as well.

The actual storyline and structure of the film is hit-and-miss. The early scenes, focusing on Cool's failed auditions, are pretty good. One scene, where Cool is told that he isn't “black enough” (by a black director no less), is great. Cool's off-the-cuff monologue is genuinely compelling and is capped off by a shocking, bitterly hilarious twist. Once these early sequences end (and the main romantic plot begins), the film starts to drag a bit.

There are some excellent individual scenes in the romantic portion of the film. A flashback where Charli is reading lines with Cool to help his acting is clever and sweet. Another scene, where Cool, Ed, and Charli are all at the dinner table, is uncomfortable (in a good way) as Cool and Charli talk about their relationship in a way that keeps Ed in the dark. The rest of these scenes, although peppered with pretty realistic dialogue, feel slow-moving.

Despite its flaws, Premium is a hard movie not to like. The actors are engaging and I like the way it tries to combine two different styles of film even if it's not entirely successful. Frankly, it's nice to see a movie about African-American adults that doesn't resort to buffoonery, stereotypes, or a man in drag. Hopefully, we'll continue to see more movies like this in the future.

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