October 23, 2018 Reach (Movie Review)
October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, so why not catch the new Drama Reach about the prevention of bullying? Written and produced by Maria Capp (Wet Cement 2012, The Bandit Hound 2016), Johnny James Fiore (Melissa & Joey series, Siphoned 2016), along with Grant Harling (The Debt Collector 2018, Locating Silver Lake 2018) and directed by Leif Rokesh, in his first feature film, Reach hit select theaters across the country on Friday, October 19, 2018 via Voltaire Media. Do not live in Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Holtsville, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, Raleigh-Durham or San Francisco? Not to worry, Freestyle Digital Media brought Reach to VOD across many internet, cable, and satellite providers on the same date.
So, it is getting a widespread release. But what is it about? Band geek Steven Turano (Garrett Clayton: Teen Beach Movie 2013, Hairspray Live! 2016) is tired of life. When he is not being bullied by his former best friend Nick Perkins (Jordan Doww: It’s Sketchy series, Stalked by A Reality Star 2018), he is holding a bitter grudge against his widow father Steve (Bojesse Christopher: Point Break 1991, Beverly Hills 90210 series). After joining a pro-suicide support group online, he sets his mind on killing himself. Then his plans get sidelined when he makes a new friend in Clarence West (Fiore), who helps Steven find other solutions to his problems. Will they hold water? Will Steven find a new lease on life?
So, it has an interesting dramatic premise, and some good intentions with its anti-bullying message. Does that translate into a good movie though? Is it the film of a lifetime, or a film for Lifetime?
Usually the summary would answer that question. But here it is; Reach is definitely more akin to a Lifetime movie. Granted, it is not as preachy or histrionic as Lifetime’s more infamous entries. Yet it is not down-to-earth like more serious dramas, despite some relatable elements. There are some off-the-wall characters and plot elements at play here.
For example, co-writer Harling appears as Mr Tony, the stage-actor turned drama teacher whose classes contain musical interludes from Leo (the film’s 15 year old composer Rio Mangini). Though it is Fiore who takes the cake as Clarence. He knows judo, wears South American ponchos and brings the teacher a banana because “it’s cooler than an apple”. If he was any more inexplicable, he would be Steven’s version of Tyler Durden from 1999’s Fight Club.
Reach does not get quite that twisty, though it does have sudden mood shifts by its middle act. The film is a drama bouillabaisse as the different elements intersect and play out. Most of it plays out straightforwardly, albeit with some escalation. Other times it turns on a dime from sunshine and smiles to lonely, teary metal jams. Clayton and Christopher put on the best performance with the best of the dramatic examples – dealing with suicide and past emotional baggage. Then the film covers sexuality and alcoholism through Doww’s Nick and his dad Jack (Kevin Sizemore: The Case for Christ 2017, Legal Action 2018). There is also substance abuse, depression, guilt, almost everything under the sun.
The problem is that it does not feel like a natural progression. All these elements clash and bang together like a whirlwind of woe, appearing one moment before fading in favor of the next. It might touch some viewers, though it is more likely to make them feel bemused. There is so much going on that it can be hard to follow along. Should the viewers stick with Steven and hope for the best for him? What about Nick? He is a bully, but he has his demons. And what about Clarence? Is there something dark behind his smiles and pop culture references? It regains its footing by the last act, though not without some more sudden rises.
The cast do their best, putting on performances that range from fair to good, with some shakes here and there. There are even some nice musical motifs backing up the scenes, particularly the heavier ones. Technically, it is a largely sound film. The only exception is the climax, which has some intentionally chaotic editing to match the scene.
The biggest bugbears lie in the story and pacing. The rest of the drama swamps over the anti-bullying focus, leaving it as one thread amongst strings of others. If Reach had settled on just a few of them – the bullying, depression, and reaching out – then it might have been a stronger film. Instead, it might inspire the next generation of Lifetime movies; less stuffy (there’s pot!), more jokey, but still full of cheese. There is some entertainment to be had here and that is why CrypticRock gives Reach 3 out of 5 stars.