James Franco Indulges Experimental Side In Indulgent "William Vincent"

by BILLY GRAY · April 30, 2010

I'm starting to worry about James Franco. The quirky Renaissance Man is popular and handsome enough to survive increasingly strained divergences from the Hollywood norm. But the artsy, interminable William Vincent makes you long for the actor's return to the Spiderman franchise. 

William Vincent is directed by Jay Anania. Anania is a professor at NYU's graduate film school. But his latest feels like an unusually slick and ambitious student film.

Franco plays the title character. He's not so much a drifter as a specter. William (an assumed name, natch) skulks around downtown New York streets and cafes, punching random strangers in the face one night, chastising a hipster for leaving a small tip the next and picking pockets all along the way. He's the perfect sociopath.

A nameless crime boss played by Josh Lucas notices William's petty criminal prowess and recruits him as a drug dealer and debt collector. But William only has eyes for the Boss's girlfriend Anne (Julianne Nicholson).

It's a simple, familiar premise. And Anania's heart is in the right place as he tries to mix things up. Unfortunately, his brain gets in the way, resulting in a pretentious, glacially paced cerebral exercise that devotes about as much time to tedious nature video footage (Vincent edits them) as the ostensible plot.

Some of it works. Noir shots of Chinatown and Greenwich Village  nooks and alleys (Doyers and Minetta Street feature prominently) pull you in. And I wish Anania's elegant score had been used more.

Mostly though, William Vincent drags. The performances are monotone. Franco and his co-stars practically sleepwalk through many sequences, their conversations filled with excruciating pauses and long, dopey stares. Which might have been the point in a film that's more an academic thesis--something about Eastern aestheticism, I think--than entertainment.

Still, it's bad news when the biggest effect a movie's quiet calm has on a viewer is allowing him to hear the man snoring in the next row.

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