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Suburban Bawl

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 7, 1997

A group of listless, 20-year-olds confronts an uncertain future with familiar reluctance in "subUrbia," a self-pitying blab-fest that begs the question, "So what else is new?" Apparently, not much. It seems, nothing ever changes in Slackerville, a bourgeois state of mind that filmmaker Richard Linklater has explored with more laughs and greater compassion in "Slacker" and "Dazed and Confused."

But then Linklater was directing his own screenplays, fond and unpretentious films that perfectly captured the fears, insecurities and wonderfully whimsical sensibilities of the youth culture. This time out, Linklater is working from New York street aesthete Eric Bogosianís adaptation of his 1994 play, a tiresome drama about a night in the life of seven high school chums from a mythical suburb of Austin -- the blah, bedroom community of Burnfield, Texas.

Since paradise has been paved, the kids no longer gather in grassy fields for games of ball. Instead, they practice the fine art of hanging out in the parking lot of a convenience store. Like disaffected youth in the beat and boom generations, the friends have just discovered that reality bites -- or in this case, gets a case of the munchies. Navel-gazing, bellyaching and agonizing ensue.

While the dialogue is fertilized with the manure of profanity and wised up with strip mall slang, it retains the creak of the boards. The characters seem more like members of the Burnfield High debate team than a bunch of friends shooting the breeze. Jeff (Giovanni Ribisi), a part-time community college student, plays devilís advocate, pushing the others into reassessing their middle-class values.

Tim (Nicky Katt), a high school quarterback and Air Force dropout now on welfare, is understandably the most cynical of the bunch. Along with their clownish buddy (Steve Zahn), Jeffís girlfriend (Amie Carey) and her recently rehabbed pal (Dina Spybey), Tim and Jeff make up a welcoming committee for an old classmate, Pony (Jayce Bartok), a geek who transformed himself into a rock star.

When Pony and his leggy publicist (Parker Posey) arrive in a limo, his obvious success coupled with tensions between the kids and the hard-working Pakistanis who manage the store cause Tim to become more threatened than usual. In addition to an outpouring of self-pity, Tim turns on both Pony and the Pakistani storekeeper, Nazeer (Ajay Naidu). Nazeer, who endures Timís racist taunts, the loud music, loitering, littering and drunkenness all night long, finally lets them have it. "You people are so stupid. You throw it all away [the American Dream that they are heir to]. Whatís wrong with you?" demands the apoplectic emigre.

Finally the long night is over, Bogosianís point is made and the sun comes up over the 7-Eleven. Itís a new morning in America for some of the friends, while others continue to blame lax immigration laws, rock impresarios with bad taste, inattentive parents, an uncaring society et al for their problems.

Linklater, who introduced the blithe, but bemused slacker subculture to America in 1991, gets bogged down not only in Bogosianís for-stage structure, but especially his middle-aged perspective. Though "subUrbia" comes with attractive young actors and an edgy, alternative soundtrack, the filmís cautionary tone clearly comes from somebody who hasnít been dazed or confused for a very long time.

SUBURBIA (R, 120 minutes) ó Contains profanity, drinking, dope-taking and sexual innuendo.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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