By Michael Phillips, Tribune movie critic, published on August 31, 2007|
Chat-room stalkers deserve everything the law can throw at them, including enforced viewings of "Hard Candy." High-minded sleaze, the film deceives you with its first 10 minutes, which are interestingly creepy. After a brisk online meeting in one of "those" chat rooms, a fashion photographer (Patrick Wilson, lately seen in HBO's "Angels in America" as the tormented bisexual Mormon) meets up in person with a bright, misunderstood teen (Ellen Page) at an L.A. coffeehouse. His online nickname is "lensman319." Hers: "thonggrrrl14."
A second meeting is arranged. In his fabulous hillside home, the photographer and his Lolita-ite quarry trade banter about his camera subjects. The girl wonders if he has slept with the models. "They're underage, mostly. I'd be arrested," he says. The way Wilson handles the line, an air of expectation hangs in the smoggy air for several seconds afterward.
Wilson uses his all-American not-quite-trustworthiness to intriguing advantage in the early going, and Page is a formidable co-star. But the script's first revelation heralds a tedious string of reversals and counter-reversals. This is basically "Sleuth" with a pedophile in it. The lead actors, both good, aren't playing people, they're playing abstracted, plot-crushed notions of characters stuck in a would-be play contributing, in some small way, to the air quality of greater Los Angeles.
Eventually and with great relish "Hard Candy" devotes many minutes to the photographer's comeuppance. Your clues to the comeuppance are the name "Bobbitt" and the kitchen utensil "knife." The film's director is David Slade. The screenwriter is Brian Nelson. Only two males working in perfectly mediocre pulp harmony would dream up an avenging teen angel like this one.
Rating: 1,5 out of 4