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FUNNY-HAT SUFFERER: Forest Whitaker dons the chapeau of physical distress as an physically injured but spiritually liberated man in 'Ripple Effect.'


'Ripple Effect': There is a destiny that shapes our ends, write them badly as we will

By Richard von Busack

NEVER TO BE forgotten is the famous story of Ben Hecht being lured to Hollywood with a telegram from Mankiewicz: "Millions are to be grabbed out here, and your only competition is idiots. Don't let this get around." What such a telegram wouldn't include is the sad part of the story: the feeling of guilt from grabbing those millions through relatively easy labor. Hence, the New Age's hold on Southern California. Ripple Effect, a spiritual melodrama written, produced and starring Philippe Caland, is the kind of Sufioid codswallop that serves to assuage the guilt endemic to top-of-the-world types.

Caland, a Parisian of Lebanese descent, was a longtime producer in the indie realm; he wrote the story for Jennifer Lynch's Boxing Helena, for instance; and he produced Loved. Surrounded with a group of actors who are way out of his weight range as a thespian, Caland plays Amer Atrash, a famous clothing designer in Los Angeles. Happily married to Sherry (Virginia Madsen) and the father of a young child, he seemingly has it all. But when the bank calls in a $2 million line of credit, Amer is forced to freeze outgoing payments and search for new financing. Amer begins to feel that he has a jinx over him.

We now understand the flashbacks that have been haunting this movie: 15 years previously, Amer was out driving in the middle of the night and hit and ran over Philip (Forest Whittaker). He's never made amends to the wounded man, but fortunately he knows the exact location where he hangs out, a bar in Los Angeles. Onstage there, Philip's wife, Kitty (Minnie Driver), plays a little acoustic folk guitar and picks up men to satisfy those particular needs her paraplegic husband can't fill. Amer goes home with the trio, but he refuses Kitty's advances. It's only later that Amer can learn how rich Philip's spiritual life has been since the accident. Accident, did I day? There are none, only manifestations of a great cosmic plan.

I don't think directing women is Caland's department. Driver's seduction scene is maybe the scariest since Sandra Bernhard cornered Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy. And left out in this story, rather, is Madsen, who is always posed on a divan, a bed or a couch; she might as well be expensive furniture. When Madsen gets into confabs with her best pal, Alex (Kali Rocha, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the movie suddenly gets a lot better for a few moments: the advantage of a novice director is that he can sometimes let the leash slip by accident. Whitaker never gets free, though. It's an unfortunate coincidence that Whitaker's Philip also tells the same story Philip Seymour Hoffman told in Charlie Wilson's War, only slower and twice as long. Whitaker is a great actor, but when it comes to spiritual cinema he can turn into a living lump of caramel. And not only is he saddled with the gentle-guy-in-the-wheelchair role, he also gets cringeworthy lines like "Today, magic is going to happen for you."

Movie Times RIPPLE EFFECT (R; 87 min.), directed by and written by Philippe Caland, photographed by Daron Keet and starring Forest Whitaker, Virginia Madsen and Minnie Driver, opens Aug. 1 at Camera 3 in San Jose.

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