Title: 96 Minutes

Director: Aimee Lagos

Starring: Brittany Snow, Evan Ross, Christian Serratos, J. Michael Trautmann, David Oyelowo

If “Crash” were re-cast and re-imagined as an Atlanta-set teen drama about a carjacking gone awry, it might resemble something like “96 Minutes,” a wan thriller whose reach for socio-economic/ethnic insight and relevance far exceeds its meager grasp. Despite a few good moments and performances, overly familiar plotting and a dearth of insight doom this padded, grandiloquent melodrama, no matter its claim that it’s based on true events.

A morality play of sorts, the movie focuses chiefly on a quartet of youngsters. Despite tough circumstances, Dre (Evan Ross) is set to graduate high school and get his life on track, but he’s still worried about his old friend Kevin (J. Michael Trautmann), a sullen white trash kid who’s doing everything he can to get jumped in with a local African-American gang, despite the fact that they look down on him and treat him as little more than a curiosity. Meanwhile, driven college student Carley (Brittany Snow), an impassioned opponent of capital punishment, is on track to graduate with highest honors; out celebrating with friends one night, she offers to drive home Lena (Christian Serratos), who’s unsettled by the recent discovery of her boyfriend’s philandering.

Their paths cross when hotheaded Kevin, unable to break into a parked car, jacks Carley’s SUV and takes she and Lena as hostages, leading a horrified Dre to have to make a split-second decision about whether to help his friend, and then how to best extricate themselves from the situation. Further intersecting these overlapping tales is local business owner Duane (David Oyelowo), also Dre’s uncle, who eventually finds himself in a unique position to help Carley, to whom he has no connection.

The feature film debut of writer-director Aimee Lagos, “96 Minutes” employs a familiar structure, flashing back and forth between the panicked aftermath of the carjacking and the events leading up to it, before finally paying off its hostage crisis. Built upon a framework of race and class, “96 Minutes” obviously wants to make a statement about morality and vengeance, social mobility and compassion, and the like. But it’s simply not engaging enough, stuck somewhere between awkward didacticism and empty underclass rage. They’re a step up from ciphers, but the characters are still just types, and not sufficient vessels for audience intrigue.

The movie is unpleasant and visually unengaging as well. Working with cinematographer Michael Fimognari, Lagos deploys an over-abundance of free-floating handheld camerawork in an empty effort to impress anxiety and other feelings upon the proceedings. It comes across as gimmicky and tired.

Notwithstanding the slack of its narrative, some of the movie’s performances are good — most notably Oyelowo and Ross, the latter of whom was quite solid opposite Terrence Howard and the late Bernie Mac in Sunu Gonera’s “Pride.” Trautmann, however, is all puffed-up underprivileged resentment, straight out of some fourth-generation music video knock-off of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy,” or a Limp Bizkit song. Despite Kevin’s misguided mindset and lack of education, Lagos never locates a convincing voice for his rage and despair, and therefore any potential audience empathy is quickly eroded by all his bluster and idiocy.

For more information, visit www.96MinutesTheMovie.com.

Technical: C-

Acting: B

Story: C-

Overall: C-

Written by: Brent Simon

96 minutes movie

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By Brent Simon

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International, Newsweek Japan, Magill's Cinema Annual, and many other outlets. He cannot abide a world without U2 and tacos.

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