DUCK
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

Buried somewhere in this messy, strange and
occasionally affecting film is an interesting idea
-- perhaps even a good one. But what's on
screen in
DUCK also veers into territory that is
precious and even boring.

After an opening sequence that shows
snapshots of a family -- father, mother and son
-- and the sad fact that the son has died before
the events depicted in the movie -- the scene
shifts to an aging gentleman carefully dressing.
There's an air of dignity about it -- of course
there would be as he is portrayed by Philip
Baker Hall. Arthur is getting ready to take his
late wife's ashes to a local park to bury them
near the spot where his son's ashes were spread
several years earlier. We are in Los Angeles and
the year is 2009. Garbage and debris litter the
roadsides and the park and development is
rearing its head -- the local area of greenery is
set to be developed into luxury condominiums.

Depressed and alone, Arthur has brought along
a tin of pills to ingest to commit suicide when a
tiny duckling waddles into view and "adopts"
him. For his part, Arthur decides to live and rear
the duckling he calls "Joe." Soon, the pair are
homeless and engaging in a series of
adventures which make up the bulk of the film's
flimsy plot.

Writer-director Nic(ole) Bettauer reportedly has
been nurturing the idea for this film for years,
since her grad student days at USC's film
school. As I stated, there is a germ of an
intriguing idea -- a homeless man and his pet
on a series of adventures through a futuristic
Los Angeles, when Social Security and welfare
programs are long forgotten and another Bush
(Jeb) sits in The White House. There are
certainly antecedents for this type of story: De
Sica's
UMBERTO D (1952) and Mazursky's
HARRY AND TONTO (1974) spring to mind
immediately. Unfortunately,
DUCK isn't in the
same league as those pictures.

Bettauer's dialogue tends to be banal and not
terribly engrossing, except in a few cases. There
are a handful of scenes scattered through the
movie that enliven it and held my interest,
notably an interview Arthur has with a nursing
home administrator (played with warmth by
Starletta DuPois), Arthur's encounter with
Leopold (Bill Brochtrup), a helpful stranger, and
most especially a poignant encounter with the
owner of a nail salon (Amy Hill). But for every
one of those, there is a scene like a Halloween
party that seemingly has no reason to be in the
film.

Philip Baker Hall has delivered several sterling
performances in his career from
SECRET
HONOR
to SYDNEY/HARD EIGHT but even his
most prodigious talents cannot salvage some of
the dialogue he has to utter. He tries gamely
and should be accorded some sort of prize -- it
clearly cannot be easy acting opposite a duck,
even if that animal is a veteran of TV
commercials and movies.

I do want to cite the cinematography of Anne
Etheridge. She has shot most of the outdoor
sequences in a manner that suggests that the
futuristic Los Angeles is even more smoggy and
hazy than contemporary times. There's a grainy,
yellowish look to the film that subliminally
suggests a post-apocalyptic world without being
overly obvious.

Ultimately, I suppose
DUCK is meant to be a
sort of love story between a man and his pet --
and not in the same way that the recent
documentary
ZOO explored relations between
men and horses. Bettauer has some interesting
things to say, but she mars the final result with
material that doesn't really fit her concept.


    Rating:                    C-
    MPAA Rating:       PG-13 for brief
                                 strong language
    Running time:       98 mins.
and Duck #30 in
DUCK

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