Across the Hall Alex Merkin

Across the Hall Alex Merkin
For some, the purpose of making a short film is to acquire enough recognition and gravitas to secure funding for an expanded feature-length version of their story. Of course, when we consider that approximately 4,000 short films are made in the U.S. every year, compared with the 400 feature-length movies that find theatrical runs, the inherent challenge involved becomes clear. Surpassing these preliminary roadblocks is only part of the struggle, as for every Sling Blade and Napoleon Dynamite there is a D.E.B.S. and a Cashback. Unfortunately for writer/director Alex Merkin, Across the Hall, his expanded version of the 2005 short of the same name, falls firmly into the latter category. Playing as a dubious and twisty encomium to film noir, this thriller finds Terry (Danny Pino) staking out a hotel room across the hall from June (Brittany Murphy), his fiancée, who he has learned is cheating. Concerned of how far he might take his revenge, he calls his best friend Julian (Mike Vogel) for a bit of a pep talk. Inevitably, someone isn't exactly how they present themselves to be, leading to gunfire, cell phone manipulation and people being tied to chairs. While the latter plot shifts and clever psychological plotting of the story deliver the requisite punch of a film that relies on shock and awe, everything in between falls flat for a few reasons. Firstly, the actual dialogue is terrible. Characters repeat thoughts, share a vocabulary and state the unlikely obvious throughout. Given that mind games are afoot, some fancy wordplay and double entendres could easily have upped the ante. Another issue is that Mike Vogel can't act. Brittany Murphy injects a keen insight and some welcome comedy into her limited role, while Pino does a reasonable job of waxing hysterical, but Vogel does little more than stand around slack-jawed repeatedly taking off his shirt — seemingly because it is his only skill. Some fancy storyboarding gives things a glossy, calculated sheen, but the meandering that comes from expanding a short into a feature is insurmountable. Included with the DVD are brief "Making of" and "Working with Alex Merkin" supplements, which discuss the writing process and actor interpretations. (E1)