'Cashback': Shortchanged

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Friday, July 20, 2007

"Cashback" springs from that childhood fantasy of being able to stop time and wander freely among the temporarily frozen. If only writer-director Sean Ellis had done more than use the conceit for a functional romance.

In the movie, which Ellis expanded to a feature-length story from his Academy Award-nominated short, art student Ben (Sean Biggerstaff), distraught and sleepless after a romantic breakup, takes a night job in a supermarket. There, he finds himself alongside what appears to be the reserve team for "The Office," with an annoying boss and various dorky employees with delusions of grandeur. Most significantly for Ben, there is Sharon (Emilia Fox), a bored cashier who dreams of going to Spain and is romantically available.

Ben's insomnia has reached such a point that he finds he's able to arrest time itself and to observe, touch or shift around the people in his immediate vicinity. That makes for some visually arresting scenes as, for instance, when Ben stops time in the supermarket, undresses the female shoppers and sketches them. (Being a sensitive artist, he sees only aesthetically pleasing bodies, of course, as opposed to naked babes.) But his central issue -- to get over one girlfriend and find another -- isn't the most morally compelling in the world. There's little reason to watch the predictable course of his new relationship. And the movie never meaningfully explores its most powerful element. What does it mean to have this wish? Is it a cry for power, a rape fantasy in disguise, an expression of existential helplessness? In his desire to offer audiences little more than wish-fulfillment spectacle, Ellis turns his back on a better movie.

-- Desson Thomson

Cashback R, 98 minutes Contains graphic nudity, sexual content and profanity. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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