Written & Directed By John Herzfeld
Starring Danny Aiello, Tom Berenger, Lauren Cohan, Kevin Connolly, Terry Crews, Cary Elwes, Kelsey Grammer, Omari Hardwick, Elizabeth Henstridge, Thomas Jane, Ryan Kwanten, Nelly, David O’Hara, Kyra Sedgwick, Tom Sizemore, Sylvester Stallone, Danny Trejo
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John Herzfeld’s tonally confused, hopelessly convoluted ‘Reach Me’ explores the timeless question: Can a shrieking, deranged Tom Berenger help ‘E’ from Entourage quit smoking? The film, about disparate individuals brought together by the motivational writings of a famous, reclusive self-help guru (Berenger), is in theory an inspirational dramedy. In reality, the filmmaker has fired a fusillade of contrived scenarios, pointless cameos, and offensive “jokes” at the unsuspecting audience.
The film opens with majestic, black-and-white shots of nighttime L.A. and its neighbor, the Mighty Pacific, accompanied by Tree Adams’ soaring score. Both image and sound hint at an epic story to come.
Then Teddy Raymond (Berenger), poorly lit and barely visible, strolls across a deserted beach. He wears a fanny pack and gesticulates spastically while muttering barely intelligible platitudes. “There’s no stopping someone who will stop at nothing,” Teddy rambles, while Adams’ rising score signals the statement’s depth and power. We wonder, “Is the majestic imagery and epic score, juxtaposed against this sad-sack spouting banalities, meant to be ironic?” The film quickly answers: No. No it is not.
We soon learn that the babbling old coot has published his insipid clichés in a self-help best seller called Reach Me. Reach Me has somehow taken the nation by storm and kick-started a crazed movement devoted to the book’s reclusive author. Our few glimpses of the book’s text reveal poor grammar and spelling – an unintentional oversight indicative of the film’s shoddy craftsmanship.
Next we meet a slew of barely defined characters, connected only by the film’s preposterous assertion that Reach Me has profoundly changed their lives. The book’s devotees include hip-hop star E-Ruption (Nelly), recently released inmate Colette (Kyra Sedgewick), and maladroit hit man Dominic (David O’Hara), who badly wants a career change.
Other key characters include Teddy’s managers, Kate (Lauren Cohan) and Wilson (Terry Crews), Colette’s niece Eve (Elizabeth Henstridge), Dominic’s partner Thumper (Omari Hardwick) and boss Frank (Tom Sizemore), murderous cop Wolfie (Thomas Jane), Wolfie’s guilt-stricken priest Father Paul (Danny Aiello), tabloid mogul Gerald (Sylvester Stallone), and the closest thing “Reach Me” has to a protagonist: ‘E’ from Entourage (Kevin Connolly). Connolly’s character is technically a tabloid journalist named Roger, but who are we kidding, he’s ‘E’ from Entourage. Connolly plays Roger with the same smug air of entitlement, ambition, and self-righteousness that made ‘E’ so unpleasant. We’re also treated to a menagerie of random cameos from the likes of Danny Trejo, Ryan Kwanten, Chuck Zito, and a jarringly intense Kelsey Grammar, who apparently wasn’t informed of the film’s comic tone.
“Reach Me” introduces more characters than can possibly be serviced in a 92-minute film. Even the central characters are hollow sketches with only one or two discernible traits. As a result, viewers have no fully-realized, multidimensional human beings to invest in. It becomes impossible to view these ill-defined characters as distinct individuals who exist outside the famous actors portraying them. Viewers will likely forget the names of these unmemorable caricatures as soon as they’re introduced, because honestly, who cares? Instead, get ready to enjoy the exploits of characters you’ll no doubt rename Mass Murderer Thomas Jane, Deranged Tom Berenger, Histrionic Rocky Balboa, Barely Recognizable Tom Sizemore, Cuckoo Bananas Kyra Sedgewick, and of course ‘E.’
Reach Me centers around three disconnected plot clusters, which I hesitate to call “plotlines,” since “line” insinuates more forward movement than actually takes place here. In Cluster One, egomaniacal big shot Histrionic Rocky Balboa orders his ace tabloid reporter ‘E’ to track down Deranged Tom Berenger (DTB), who hasn’t appeared in public for years. ‘E’ quickly finds DTB using a combo of journalistic resourcefulness and impossible dumb luck. ‘E’ proceeds to antagonize, insult, and blackmail DTB until, naturally, he gets his interview.
DTB – susceptible to the kind of simplistic reverse psychology normally reserved for five-year-olds – decides to prove he’s not a fraud by curing ‘E’ of his smoking habit, which, the film assures us, is the reason ‘E’ can’t find a girlfriend. Unfortunately, “Reach Me” gives us no reason to care whether ‘E’ lands a girlfriend or dies of emphysema. This leads to a scene so surreal and asinine, it must be seen to be believed. DTB drags ‘E’ to the beach, literally by his neck, and begins shrieking instructions and invectives at both ‘E’ and the wind. Following DTB’s crazed directions, ‘E’ spends all night – and 15 dramatically inert minutes on-screen – shouting his own name at the ocean and insisting that he doesn’t smoke. The film asks us to view DTB’s methods as brilliant and accept that, come sunup, ‘E’ no longer has a physical dependency on nicotine. ‘E’ spends the rest of the film trying to convince DTB to appear in public, after lo these many years.
Cluster Two follows the supposed bond between Cuckoo Bananas Kyra, her niece Aspiring Actress (actually named Eve, but you certainly won’t remember), and their new friend, Mass Murderer Thomas Jane. Murderer comes into Cuckoo and Actress’s orbit, after Actress accidentally runs him over with a car. Early in the film, Aspiring Actress is sexually assaulted by a TV star in a scene that is utterly out-of-place in a film this frivolous and silly. The assault’s aftermath – Aspiring Actress keeps her mouth shut for fear of losing her career, while her famous assailant behaves with impunity – is eerily reminiscent of the recent allegations against Bill Cosby. This wouldn’t be terrible if “Reach Me” were interested in meaningfully exploring the issue of sexual assault in Hollywood. But iinstead it just uses the attack as an excuse to let Mass Murderer Thomas Jane commit gratuitous violence on behalf of his new friend.
You see, Mass Murderer Thomas Jane has a slight addiction: Mass murder. He uses his detective’s shield to lure bad guys into life-and-death scenarios, before blowing them away with a quick-draw that would make Josey Wales weep with envy. He spends the bulk of the film chasing down his priest, Moralizing Danny Aiello, to confess his sins and demand forgiveness. To the priest’s credit, he wants no part of Murderer’s hypocrisy. Unfortunately, this leads to redundant, heavy-handed scenes of Aiello pointing out why Murderer’s behavior is wrong, while Murderer plays dumb and demands his damn sacrament already. Meanwhile, Cuckoo stares into space and rambles that it’s her destiny to rescue her favorite author, Deranged Tom Berenger. This plot cluster never coheres or builds power, since Cuckoo, Murderer, and Actress are pursuing completely disconnected agendas.
In Cluster Three, cartoonish mafioso Barely Recognizable Tom Sizemore orders his bumbling hit men Dominic and Thumper to whack a dog, because that’s just the kind of guy he is. Dominic finds a copy of Reach Me and is instantly transformed by the book’s generic hokum. Dominic doesn’t want to kill a dog anymore; he wants to open a restaurant. Can Dominic convince Thumper to join him in the restaurant biz before Lassie eats lead? This story thread is lighter than air, logically preposterous, and easily the best-executed plotline of the film, occasionally flirting with coherence.
“Reach Me’s” divergent plot strands and one-note characters eventually come together in a contrived, convoluted climax. The ending swings-and-misses spectacularly at big emotional moments that make no sense and are dramatically unearned. For instance, a slew of characters cornily find love, though precious little screen time has been devoted to developing their romances.
It’s shocking how little the emotional experience of watching the film matches the experience Herzfeld seems to have intended. “Reach Me’s” biggest dramatic moments land flat or are outright laughable, while the film’s attempts at humor are invariably cringe-worthy. In one failed attempt at “comedy,” the film mercilessly mocks Tourette’s syndrome as Ryan Kwanten portrays a man suffering from the disorder in the most derisive manner possible.
“Reach Me’s” intended inspirational message is subsumed by Herzfeld’s poorly executed script and on-the-nose dialogue. Meanwhile, the film’s a-list cast finds itself struggling to breathe life into one-dimensional characters. For Mr. Connolly, “Reach Me” is somehow the lowlight of a career that includes eight seasons of Entourage.
– Jason Teich