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Movie Review

The Killing Jar

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Perhaps writer-director Mark Young cast onetime teenage reality star Talan Torriero of MTV's "Laguna Beach" fame in "The Killing Jar," a supposed high-stakes drama, because he intended to inject some of that show's vapid emptiness into his already paper-thin story. If so, he hit the nail square on the head. This bloody flick, which centers on a murderous rampage inside a lonely roadside diner, brings together grisly gunplay and heavy-handed dialogue in hopes of re-creating some of the pulse-racing tension a writer-director like Quentin Tarantino so successfully wrings from those two elements. What Young failed to realize, though, is that simply casting the constantly wincing Michael Madsen as the bad guy with said gun does not, by default, create "Reservoir Dogs 2."

On a hot, summery night, waitress Noreen (Amber Benson) and her grouchy cook Jimmy (Danny Trejo) tend to the few customers sipping coffee and nibbling on stale pie. Because, conveniently, the blaring radio has announced four murders in town, Noreen and her patrons are instantly on edge when a mysterious man in black (Madsen) enters and begins shaking up the joint with angry demands. This first bit of action takes place nearly halfway through the film because Young is so fond of interspersing every tiny plot movement with tedious close-ups of dripping faucets, buzzing neon signs, and swirling coffee inside cups.

What semblance of a plot that eventually surfaces involves the diner's employees and customers being held hostage until, incredibly late in the film, a man identifying himself as Greene (Jake Busey) arrives to add a shockingly dumb twist: one of the hostages is also a hired killer. By the time the second murderer is revealed, it's a challenge to care about these dueling sociopaths or their motives. Add to this a wildly half-baked moral quandary à la "Saw" placed on the victims by Madsen, and you've all the elements for a certified yawn-fest. The only distraction from the flimsy premise and unbalanced acting is the surprisingly strong performance by Harold Perrineau ("Lost"), whose traveling-salesman character serves as the film's only rudder.

You've almost got to hand it to Young for finding a way to make Madsen, the quintessential film baddie, look like he's all but squirming under his collar when attempting to wield a gun and look menacing. But, then again, giving your characters no logical reasons to be doing anything at all might make even the most hardened villain look a little confused.

Genre: Drama
Written and directed by: Mark Young
Starring: Michael Madsen, Harold Perrineau, Amber Benson, Danny Trejo

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