Don't waste your life

With subUrbia, the director of Slacker has finally become one

The women in subUrbia get the short end. Bee-Bee hugs her cassette player as if it were a Teddy bear; Sooze grates and goes on her Pony ride. Erica (Parker Posey), Pony's record-company publicist, falls for Tim because she's a Bel-Air princess prowling for rough stuff. As obnoxious as the guys in subUrbia are, they're still redeemable; but no such redemption exists for the women. They're too shallow even for anomie. They function in the movie as agents of the guys' anomie.

Linklater has been one of the most remarkable of the new generation of directors. The linked hang-loose stories in Slacker had an eerie resonance. The film captured a new mood--a slacker's mood: flip, menacing, dissociated. Enjoyable but less original was Dazed and Confused, but Before Sunrise, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, had a hushed, tentative sweetness. SubUrbia is wrong for Linklater not only because it repeats subject matter but because his floating-on-the-cusp-of-mood style does nothing to blockade Bogosian's bull. Linklater in his best films can stand back from a scene and just let it play out, and sometimes you feel that he's giving you more than the directors who are always ramming your face in the action. There is a principled modesty in his films that is very becoming.

In subUrbia, however, that modesty comes across as a kind of creative abdication. There's something unseemly--unthinking--about the way Linklater window-dresses Bogosian's corruptness. If he doesn't learn to cast a colder eye and pick up a few rude tricks, Linklater could end up Hollywood's first slacker hack.

Steve Zahn, Amie Carey, Nicky Katt, Giovanni Ribisi. Written by Eric Bogosian. Directed by Richard Linklater. Opens March 7.

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