US / 79 minutes / color / Quality Control Dir & Pr & Scr: Erich Kemp Cine: Steven Burritt Cast: Lackos, Olivia Preciado, Kristopher Knight-Doyle, Matthew Callahan, Eliot, Timothy Fox, Fernando Rodriguez, Narinder “Tony” Soni.
An interesting and praiseworthy independent attempt to evoke the ambience and themes of classic film noir, Palmdale suffers from the fact that what could have made an excellent half-hour featurette lasts for nearly eighty minutes.
Army vet Kurt (Lackos), now engaged in legally dubious freelance work through his minder, Ron (Eliot), is sent by Ron from Palmdale, California, to Los Angeles to meet with a couple of hackers and carry out a hit for them. Kurt is a reluctant murderer, but he needs the money and Ron is evidently an old buddy.
He’s met off the train by one of the two hackers, Adam (Knight-Doyle), who drives him back to the pad he shares with the other, Michael (Callahan). They make their living by hacking into people’s online financial details and using those details to buy expensive tech, which they can then sell through outlets like eBay. A few months ago they invited a third hacker, Marty (Fox), to join their enterprise. He stayed just long enough to clean out their bank accounts, and is now bragging all over town about how he outwitted the simpletons. Unsurprisingly, it’s Marty whom they want Kurt to knock off.
Michael (Matthew Callahan, left) and Adam (Kristopher Knight-Doyle) explain the terms of the deal.
They irritate Kurt by specifying exactly how he must travel to the bar that Marty’s going to be leaving at maybe one o’clock this morning—take this bus, then walk the rest of the way—but he grudgingly acquiesces. As he walks through the near-deserted streets toward the bar, he comes across a hooker, Marie (Preciado), being brutally beaten by her abusive pimp, Eddie (Rodriguez). Kurt intervenes and gives Eddie a dose of his own medicine, but is stopped by Marie from cutting the hoodlum’s throat. Marie is certain Eddie will soon kill her in revenge, but there doesn’t seem much Kurt can do about that.
Marie (Olivia Preciado) in despair . . .
. . . as Eddie (Fernando Rodriguez) is within a hair of meeting his doom.
Kurt finds Marty and is just about to kill him when he hears Marie’s voice yelling at him to spare the man’s life, just as she did when he was about to kill Eddie the pimp. It’s at this point Kurt realizes there’s a way out of this that will leave him far further ahead than he would have been, while at the same time allowing him to save Marie from the wrath of Eddie . . .
Marie: “How many times can you save my life?”
Kurt: “As many as I need to. You saved mine.”
The opening few minutes of the movie, as Kurt waits to catch a train and then journeys through the night for his rendezvous with Adam, are quite beautifully staged and filmed. Cinematographer Burritt really revels in the nighttime railroad landscapes, the train itself, the near-deserted stations; he displays a sort of Tarkovskian relish for observation for its own sake, as when Kurt puts a dying insect out of its misery by crushing it underfoot. All too soon, however, Burritt begins to show his limitations; while there’s still some superb photographic work ahead, there’s also far too much use of colored filters to no apparent purpose, plus a sort of addiction to darkness. This is fine when we’re following Kurt through the late-night streets of LA, but there’s no need for, say, the interior of Adam’s and Michael’s pad to be lit like a hospital ward after lights-out.
Now it’s the turn of Marty (Timothy Fox) to be within a hair of meeting his doom.
The soundtrack (by Jonathon Fessenden) follows roughly the same path as the cinematography. The two work exceptionally well together in the opening stages. Fessenden deploys crashing electric guitars (and some near-subsonics) while taking a sort of minimalist approach to melody, instead focusing on the appropriate timing of the music’s intervention—the kind of soundtrack, in other words, that sounds great during the movie but whose CD you’d never be tempted to buy. This tactic works well for a while, but I found it eventually tiresome.
Will Marie (Olivia Preciado) accept Kurt’s offer of freedom?
There’s nothing much wrong with Kemp’s screenplay except that there’s not nearly enough of it, with the result that he has to pace events with, often, near-glacial slowness. More than once I found myself grumbling at the screen: “Come on!”
I’ve focused perhaps too much on Palmdale’s demerits. The story that Kemp has to tell is a good one, and as noted there are plenty of tremendous visuals. Lackos’s central performance, although a little ponderous and self-important, is more than capable of the job of gluing everything together. The rest of the cast hold their own, while Preciado and especially Fox positively shine. The movie has a great feel to it, and I’ll be looking out for more of Kemp’s work.