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Havoc: Unrated Edition

If Barbara Kopple's direct-to-video Havoc (2005) leaves a lasting impression, it won't be because it's good (it's mostly a mess), but rather because Princess Diaries star Anne Hathaway took her top off. Nudity is a hot-button in movies, but often the starlets known for being sexy are actually demure when it comes to shedding their clothes. This is usually because much of their appeal is based on sexual tease, innocent or otherwise — once they give the audience some skin, their careers become defined by it (witness the career of Shannon Elizabeth). However, for someone like Hathaway — who's been tagged with the image of a Disney leading lady — said skin-baring proves that she's all grown up and prepared to take adult roles. This sort of posturing (something Katie Holmes did in The Gift) tends to cause the desired effect, but usually at the expense of the film itself, which becomes known simply for a bit of notable nudity. For the record then, Havoc is a misguided but interesting film about the culture of "wiggers" (a subculture comprising white youth who assimilate media-disseminated gangsta attitudes to the point that they perceive themselves a minority group) that tries to avoid the obvious potholes of being a xenophobic morality play. Instead, it trips over a different pothole by retaining a morality-play structure without any of the payoffs. Hathaway stars as Alison Lang, who has fallen in with a gang of wiggers who are followed around by would-be filmmaker Eric (Matt O'Leary), who sees their culture as inherently ridiculous. But after a run in with tough drug dealer Hector (Freddy Rodriguez), Alison and friend Emily (Bijou Phillips) find themselves drawn away from their would-be gangsta boyfriends Toby (Mike Vogel) and Sam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to Hector and his crew. In another time — or in a more conservative filmmaker's hands — Havoc might come across as racial parable about the dangers of getting too close to the real dangers of urban life. Such is the problem with dealing with the real situation of upper and middle class white kids who parrot gang culture, and the only way to avoid overt moralizing is keeping the film as documentary-esque as possible. That's why Barbara Kopple (a two-time Oscar-winning documentarian) seems a perfect fit for the material, and her intentions are good. It's obvious that the film is trying to avoid portraying any of the characters as one-dimensional, especially Hector and his friends. But the third act revolves around Emily claiming she was raped when she willingly involved herself in a literal gang-bang. Such avoids playing the race card, but it only points out how uninteresting the main characters are. But for all the film's faults, it's easy to see why Hathaway was attracted to the role, beyond the obvious against-type casting: Alison could easily be a cipher as the character shows that she's essentially shallow and often hides behind false identities, using sex as a weapon because she's scared of showing her true self. It's a feat to make such a character believable and sympathetic, and Hathaway pulls it off. Sadly, most viewers will miss this performance while scanning for the moments that have already made Havoc notorious. New Line presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Extras consist of trailers for this and other New Line films. Keep-case.
—DSH



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