Unreliable narrators have been one of the hottest gimmicks in Hollywood with varying degrees of success. Frailty is not one of the successes. Mixing together many of the trends from the late '90s, such as angels, '70s nostalgia, an extra helping of X-Files, and the aforementioned unreliable narration, the film feels focus-group-built and amateurish.

A troubled man (Matthew McConaughey) with a stolen ambulance and a dead brother inside it tells the majority of this messy tale in an FBI agent's (Powers Boothe) office. In his tale, a blue-collar single dad (Paxton) regales his two sons with a divine vision and his god-given mission to rid the world of demons, "like super heroes" as he assures his youngest. One kid embraces the fervor while the other doubts it; the predictable pseudo-mythological clash ensues, or at least the stage is set for it.

First time screenwriter Brent Hanley sets the ball in motion with some interesting ideas and a decent amount of economy in his storytelling, but he makes the mistake of getting interested in the wrong part of the story. Christopher McQuarrie (writer of The Usual Suspects) once said that back-story is just a trailer for another movie and Frailty is 95% back-story. The interesting dramatic action never makes it to the screen.

Generally attracted to back-story over story, actor-directors tend to make films full of interesting characters and situations that come to little or nothing (see Trees Lounge or Albino Alligator). To make matters worse, actor-turned-director Bill Paxton has virtually no experience at the helm and it shows. Billed as Paxton's directorial debut, ignoring his other directing credit on the video for the novelty song "Fish Heads," Frailty plays like a second year student film with a budget. The main reason film students make films while cloistered away in film school is to avoid inflicting the inevitable failures of the novice upon the public.

Paxton has acted with some of the great directors (Walter Hill, John Hughes, Sam Raimi) and blockbuster directors (James Cameron, Jan DeBont, Ron Howard) but unfortunately he appears to have learned little about storytelling of any kind from any of them. Even worse, the lack of drama in such dramatic material makes the film's failure all the more infuriating. It's one of those pictures that keep you interested during the film because it has promise, but when the wheels finally stop spinning in the mud it jumps the curb and plows into a tree.

Additionally, with no one to spur him on Paxton allows what could have been an interesting performance to drone on its one note of standard-issue crazy religious parent. Paxton has the skills to pull his part off but with his attentions split he loses both hands.

On the other hand, both McConaughey and Boothe turn in fine work in their roles even if their screen time is minimal. The children (Matthew O'Leary and Jeremy Sumpter) do serviceable jobs in their parts but nothing of any note. The highlight of their performances involves the two arguing as to whether they will see Meatballs or The Warriors the next weekend.

Overall Frailty is a mess but not a bore. If I stumbled across this picture on cable I'd probably stop changing the channel, but once it was over I'd warn people against it and that's just what I'm doing. If intrigued wait for video or better yet, cable after midnight.

On a side note, I feel the need to bring up this picture's odd marketing campaign, featuring quotes from Steven King, James Cameron, and Sam Raimi. Cameron and Paxton have been pals for years from back in their New World days, and Raimi directed Paxton in his first critical success, A Simple Plan. Cameron and Raimi are also listed in the final credits under "Special Thanks To" and, well, King was hit by a van. Just something to note.

What's It Worth? $3

Jordan Rosa

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