Serving Up Richard
All that Ram Patel (Ismail Bashey) wants to do is to live the American Dream by making enough money so that he could bring his wife, Rani (Shikha Jain) and daughter, Tara (Alyssa Daver, to New York from India. Once he arrives in New York, he moves in with his friend, Bagesh (Nimo Gandhi), and gets a job as an accountant for Ed (Kevin Gebhard) before others turn him down because he's not a native of New York. He still doesn't make the requisite income for subsistence. His arrogant, stingy boss refuses to give him a raise which means that he can't pay rent to his landlord (Terence Exodus) nor can he afford a car. So what does Ram do? He borrows money from friends and colleagues. Soon enough, he finds the money to bring his wife and daughter over to New York, and even purchases a car. He gets another chance at fulfilling the American Dream by going into business with a friend, Adesh (Samrat Chakrabarti). Will that new business endeavor pay off for Ram?
Desperate Endeavors offers no surprises or profound insights into the plight of immigrants struggling to make a living in the Land of Opportunity. The screenplay by writer/director Salim Khassa and co-writer Don L. Wilhelm more often than not resorts to contrived situations and stilted dialogue that significantly reduce any sense of realism. The characters don't seem like complex human beings, but rather merely caricatures. Ram's boss, for instance, always behaves rudely, coldly and unfairly toward others--you sense that there might be more to him than meets the eye, but this film never explores that. Michael Madsen briefly shows up as a taxi driver who's also struggling to earn a living, but, again, there's no depth to his role. The most lively and interesting character happens to be the landlord, not Ram.
Everything is essentially spoon-fed to the audience thereby leaving no room for nuance and subtlety. When someone suggests Ram to get a loan from Small Business Administration, in the very next scene, Ram sits in an office where a big sign reads "Small Business Administration" in large letters as if the audience's intelligence can't be trusted. The changes that occur to Ram, though, don't feel organic; they're merely there to move the plot along from Point A to Point B. Moreover, Desperate Endeavors could have used some comic relief or anything else that would invigorate this banal film that often feels like a made-for-TV movie. For a much more moving and sensitively-written drama about the plight of immigrants in America, please watch In America.
In this heartfelt, but meandering documentary, Jian Ping tries to bond with her emotionally distant, Americanized daughter, Lisa. She persuades Lisa to read her memoir entitled Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China which recalls the experiences she had growing up with her parents during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Jian's mother worked as a school administrator, and her father was a former Japanese POW; both of them were Communists under the reign of Mao Zedong. Life was certainly not easy for Jian as well as her parents back then because both their livelihood and live were at stake during those turbulent times. Jian's father, in fact, was sent to prison.
To compare the relationship between Jian and her parents to Jian and Lisa is akin to comparing apples and oranges. Both of them grew up under very different circumstances, and Jian didn't have the same freedoms that Lisa has today growing up in New York. While it's thought-provoking to ponder the reasons behind Jian and Lisa's lack of connection as mother-and-child, it's not enough to just have Lisa read her mother's memoir. The real question is whether or not Lisa truly understands what her mother and grandmother went through. If she wasn't there to experience it first hand, then how could she truly understand? Even if she were to reach a minimal level of understanding, in reality, it would take her a long time to process the new information in order to fully understand it. That time could take months or even years Director Susan Morgan Cooper either didn't give Lisa that crucial time for introspection or perhaps Lisa isn't articulate enough or maybe she wasn't asked enough sharp questions because the exploration of Lisa and Jian's relationship barely scratches the surface.
Cooper spends too much time showing the re-enactments from Jian's memoir which distract from the dramatic flow after present-day scenes with Lisa. If the words from the memoir are vivid and powerful then they don't need so many re-enactments. More insights could have been found during the interviews with Jian's mother whom Jian and Lisa eventually visit. Unfortunately, the final scene, much like the film itself, caters more to your emotions than your intellect, and leaves you with more questions than answers.
Serving Up Richard
Richard (Ross McCall), a former Wall Street investment specialist, ends up imprisoned by a husband and wife, Everett (Jude Ciccolella) and Glory Hutchens (Susan Priver), in their suburban home after he answers their ad to purchase their vintage sports car. Everett and Glory seem like your average American couple judging by their appearance and home. Little does Richard know, though, that they're actually cannibals until Everett devours someone's freshly-cut heart right in front of him. His only hope to escape from their prison is to try to retrieve a key from Glory. After all, he doesn't want to end up chopped liver, literally, just like Everett and Glory's prior victims.
Writer/director Henry Olek offers virtually no exposition. You're pretty much thrown right into the life of Richard as he's moved into a new home before losing his job on Wall Street. Before the blink of an eye, he's a prisoner in the Hutchens' home. Does a really deserve such a fate? All he did was not inform his colleagues that they were eventually going to be let go. That might be rude, but it's not illegal or evil for that matter. Olek should have shown Richard in a much more amoral or immoral light to add more complexity to the good guy vs. bad guy scenario. With that said, there's still some suspense to be found within the first hour or so as Richard desperately tries to get out of his predicament. Everett and Glory are far more interesting characters than Richard, though, so when you hear the brief backstory about how they the husband-and-wife cannibals met, you wish there were more information or perhaps even a flashback to another one of their crimes to get some explicit perspective rather than just seeing the photos of their past victims.
Fortunately, Olek doesn't go the well-worn torture porn route that Hostel and Saw had traversed because that would be just too cheap and over-the-top. The evolving dynamic between Richard and Glory remains compelling at least until a rather silly turn of events that make Everett behave stupidly only because it gives Richard more of a chance to escape; prior to that, he seemed quite sharp. Given that the vast majority of the film takes place inside a house and has three characters, it has the feeling of a play which means that it relies more on dialogue rather than action. More often than not, though, the dialogue could have used fine-tuning because it comes across as stilted and awkward. Olek could have taken more risks by having Everett and Glory say some clever one-liners, especially when the plot veers into dark comedy territory.
A great example of a horror comedy done with a smart script on a low budget is the 80's classic Eating Raoul. Once Serving Up Richard unevenly switches gears into banality and silliness with a gimmicky plot twist or two, you'll wish that it were more wickedly fun or at least consistently suspenseful to watch given its promising first hour.