Donovan's Echo Jim Cliffe

Donovan's Echo Jim Cliffe
This is the type of movie that with your typical audience watching (picture a family, a group of teenagers or two Satanists trying to unwind after a black mass), at some point someone says aloud, "This movie sucks" or "I'm bored."

Filmmaking is a punishing medium. Write a song that's a little off, or a piece of fiction, and it's subjective whether or not people will even perceive a flaw. But with film, if the narrative flow is even slightly askew, it's so disorienting that the work is either turned off or canonized as a piece of cult ridiculousness like Sleepaway Camp 3.

This isn't quite Sleepaway Camp 3, but typically movies this remedial, this ineffectively formulaic (as in, went for formulaic and couldn't even get the formula right), if they're enjoyed by anyone, are enjoyed by four a.m. TV watchers, but the problem is that while the plot does make some sense, you'd need to watch it first thing in the morning with a lot of caffeine and patience in order to stick with it. This isn't the fault of the writing, as you can actually get a hazy glimpse of the excellent story buried under all the directorial botchery.

Danny Glover turns in an effective, though ultimately wasted, performance as the titular Donovan. In no particular order, Donovan is: a widower, a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan project, a pre-cognitive, an alcoholic, an aggrieved grocery store clerk, a general mystery man, etc. This might be easily jammed into a David Fincher film, but in Jim Cliffe's rookie effort these components blur into each other until any brightness quickly fades. Poor Bruce Greenwood turns in a laughably earnest performance as a cookie-cutter cop whose sole purpose is to fire out vast amounts of exposition with every phrase of dialogue.

The premise is similar to Take Shelter, in which a protagonist is either crazy or having accurate visions of the future. But where that superior film sells the "crazy or not" question right down to the last seconds, Donovan is gallingly predictable. In the final scenes, the revelation thuds down with the grace of a cartoon anvil, as all Donovan's previous antagonists line up on his side.

This film was the opening night attraction at CIFF and was featured prominently at VIFF. Oh, you hadn't heard of those? They are the prestigious Vancouver and Calgary International Film Festivals. As if TIFF wasn't itself half-lousy with this brand of substandard Canadian content. The film's backers got the small theatrical release they hoped for. But what comes across is that for every Monsieur Lazhar, for every A Dangerous Method, most Canadian movies, particularly English-Canadian movies, are of poor quality.

Watch for this on one of your cable service provider's many movie channels, where they'll probably tell you that Danny Glover is in it and that it's a psychological thriller. Sounds all right, doesn't it? They might not mention it headlined VIFF and CIFF, because then the post-black mass Satanists, the families and the teens, they'll say, "Well, I like Danny Glover and count me in for a psychological thriller every time, but it's Canadian!" (Union)