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LOVE GOD (1997).

Writer-director Frank Grow's LOVE GOD is like no other film you've ever seen. It's either one of the most outrageous studio releases of all time or the biggest underground comedy ever to escape into the mainstream. More than just a simple monster movie, this tackles several parallel stories and hinges on a fragmented complexity that's unheard of in most Tinseltown flicks. It'll also have a lot of moviegoers running for the exits in record time... Will Keenan (TROMEO AND JULIET) takes center stage as Larue, a schizophrenic released from an overcrowded NYC hospital and now warehoused at the ramshackle Love Hotel. There he meets his neighbors, including a mute girl who seems attracted to him, her obsessively-clean mom and a Tourettes Syndrome neighbor-turned-roommate. Add a wacko prostitute named Kali, who's been slaughtering folks in an effort to please the Indian god Shiva, plus a crazed doctor is driving around the city with his pig-tailed nurse, looking for an escaped monster -- a parasite that travels through the sewers, ingests its victims and spits them out as walking lumps of latex. As confusing as all of this might sound, Grow does a fine job of juggling the multiple storylines, with wild animated segues provide a shorthand explanation of the various characters, diseases and religions that come into play. The script also boldly embraces several different angles -- not only is it a monster movie steeped in pitch-black comedy, but also a love story. And as each character's circle is completed, they intersect in some way. Director Grow also laces the film with smaller, subversive moments, such as a visit to the grim hospital full of lobotomy patients. Or, even better, two punk whores who pick up Larue and end up at a skanky hotel room with the bed sheets still covered in blood from a recent murder. But while all of this sounds strange enough, none of it would be more than just an exercise in weirdness if not for the cast, which goes out on a limb to bring the appropriate psychosis and humanity to their roles. At the forefront, Will Keenan is remarkable in a title role that comes off like a combination of Buster Keaton and Travis Bickle. Whether he's obsessively sculpting a bust out of chewed bubble gum or climbing city lampposts, he plays it totally straight, locates the character's emotional core and sucks us into Larue's terror in dealing with the real world. Larue's tightly-wound love interest Helen (Shannon Burkett) is so repressed for most of the movie that you can't help but feel for her, and although Kymberli Ghee has the proper look and energy as the blue-and-blood painted killer Kali, we never truly understand her obsession... The film's monsters (created by Paul Etheridge-Outzs, Brian Durham and Grow) have a surreal look akin to Salvador Dali meets Larry Buchanan. Unfortunately, Grow's ambitious, avant-garde approach -- rapid-fire cross-cutting, avoidance of standard establishing shots in favor of close-ups and POV perspectives -- often makes it difficult to tell what the hell is happening on-screen or get a good look at these creatures. Grainy and consistently in-your-face, its ever-swooping digital camerawork not only makes you feel like you're in the middle of this urban chaos, but that you're as screwed up as the characters. Best of all, the production design expertly captures the grit of the city, particularly when detailing Larue's hovel lifestyle. As most longtime New Yorkers will tell you, films that promise the reality of urban life rarely hit the bull's-eye. Grow not only understands the grubbiness of city life, but makes it as much a function of the plot as the characters. Dazzling, frustrating and altogether original, LOVE GOD isn't afraid to jump-start a fresh new way of approaching cinema. Although I doubt you'll be seeing this colorful blast of imagination and derangement at your local multiplex anytime soon, if ever there was a movie aimed at the upcoming millennium, this is it.

© 1997 by Steven Puchalski.