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By Eric Allen Hatch | Posted

An interesting film marred by an uncommonly annoying performance by Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater's Tape suffers in comparison to two films: Linklater's own, superior Waking Life, which recently opened in Baltimore, and Oleanna, David Mamet's difficult, deeper treatment of similar subject matter. Shot on digital video with two cameras in a confined space and unfolding in real time with at least one bona fide surprise, Tape has much to recommend it on paper, but it disappoints onscreen.

Vince (Hawke) has come to town for a film festival that is screening a work by his high school friend Johnny (Robert Sean Leonard). He invites Johnny to his motel room, only later telling him that Amy (Uma Thurman) will arrive shortly. Things get awkward fast, because Vince used to date Amy, until she left him for a date with Johnny that may have ended in rape. Apparently none of these characters has dealt with these issues over the past 10 years, and even as Vince tries to cajole Johnny into apologizing to Amy, all three wrestle with differing attitudes toward their pasts. The three are seemingly always on the verge of either leaving the room or undergoing personal epiphanies.

Stephen Belber's script, based on his three-character play, offers some interesting food for thought. It turns out that for all their professed uncertainty about their actions back in high school--as well as some present-day obfuscation--Vince, Johnny, and Amy knew all along what happened. The truth has always been clear; they just haven't been able to confront it, or even agree on whether they should confront it. Unfortunately, Belber's dialogue often is too coy, a flaw magnified by stylized performances that are at odds with the documentary-style look and tone of the film.

Oleanna dealt with sexual harassment as filtered through the political-correctness movement and the backlash against it. Mamet's film has many flaws, but the specificity with which it pursued its subject matter could serve as model for Tape. As for Waking Life, it would be apples and oranges to compare it to Tape--except that both fell from the same tree. The former discusses many more topics in a much more illuminating and entertaining manner than Tape manages for but one.

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