By Gabe Toro | The Playlist April 20, 2012 at 5:41PM
You might as well be prepared: “96 Minutes” is one of those multi-strand indie movies where the chronology is distorted, and you spend the runtime putting the pieces back together. You may be interested in just how every piece fits, how we got to a girl bleeding out in the back seat of a car (probably not). But it doesn’t matter, since the same complaint for this film is the one that can be used for others of its ilk, that being that none of these stories hold up on their own. But forget all that: we need to talk about Kevin.
In “96 Minutes,” Kevin is a young sixteen-year-old white teenager living in a somewhat lower-class area of the suburbs. He comes from your garden-variety broken home, where mom comes home wasted and the boyfriend follows hours later to wail on her as Kevin plays hyper-violent video games. If you guessed Kevin didn’t grow up properly in this atmosphere, your powers of observation know no bounds: perpetually hoodie-clad Kevin is prone to fits of violent rage and verbally incapable of complete sentences, yearning to be part of a local street gang.
One such gang, populated entirely by young black men, operates out of a home that also houses high schooler Dre (Evan Ross). Dre, of mixed race and café au lait complexion, is on the verge of graduating high school, and clearly has his head on straight, avoiding a life of crime even if he can’t avoid being frisked by local cops and eyed by nervous whites. While he seems to value his family members even as they participate in local gang activity, he fears that Kevin will also be seduced by this lifestyle. So when the gang, amused by the inept and Very White Kevin, consider letting him into the gang, if only to be a punching bag, Dre tells them to exclude him.
This component to the story is loaded with possibility. Dre, protective of his own racial identity despite feeling like an outsider, won’t allow this Other to perpetrate the worst notions of black people. However, Kevin doesn’t have his own identity at a crucial point of growth in his life, so co-opting hip hop culture is one of the few gestures he can make towards finding out his true self, and it’s a black youth in his age range preventing him from doing so.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get beyond the fact that Kevin is a 100% complete and total shit. Credit goes to baby-faced actor J. Michael Trautmann for bringing to life such a vile troglodyte of a boy, but this is a young man with no redeeming values whatsoever. Dre remains attached to family but keeps them at arms length, and yet, on the verge of graduating high school, he’s going to try to make a connection with this slow-thinking caveboy? Desperate to join the “gang,” and oblivious to the fact he’s being ridiculed, Kevin decides to murder the man abusing his mother. Not only does Dre stop Kevin, but he takes the boy, still holding a loaded weapon, into town. He’ll calm his nerves and keep this boy from making a regrettable decision.
What happens is a series of even more regrettable decisions that seem less the result of awful chance, and more like one allegedly smart character enabling an utter waste of another. Because the film shifts back and forth through time, these are only a fraction of the events that result in Dre and Kevin driving in a stolen car, with two college girls in the backseat, one fatally wounded (Brittany Snow, Christian Serratos, and no it doesn‘t really matter). Dre has enough patience that when Kevin absentmindedly turns on the radio at full volume despite the near-corpse in the back, he doesn’t get knocked upside the head. He does this two more times throughout the film, one of many faux pas the boy commits in the heat of danger. That’s not being a sixteen-year-old with impulse problems. That’s a possibly mentally-challenged person acting on primitive instinct, and while we’re constantly reminded that Dre is the smartest and calmest person, the entire film hinges on him having sympathy and understanding for a teenager with the self-control of an infant.
A subplot involving the always great David Oyelowo as a cook is indicative of the film’s problems: it’s more overstuffing in a movie with a central storyline that shouldn’t be. As a restaurant owner who finds himself inorganically involved in the situation, he toils quietly by day, providing rescue of sorts at night. Near the film’s close, his character has a conversation with another, but he’s just a sounding board, helpful only to our paper-thin protagonists looking to express their philosophies. He registers great compassion in this nothing role, but also great intelligence: surely he wouldn’t have tolerated Kevin’s complete and utter incompetence, saving a few lives, and maybe knocking a good hour-and-a-half out of the film’s title. [D-]