Directed by Philippe Caland. Starring Philippe Caland, Forest Whitaker, Virginia Madsen, Minnie Driver, Kali Rocha, John Billingsley, Jerry Katell, Orlando Seale. (2008, R, 87 min.)
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Aug. 1, 2008
Like a pilgrim seeking salvation, Ripple Effect is awash in questions. Big questions, weighty questions, questions rich in spiritual possibility and insight. Where do we find happiness? How can we leave guilt behind and forgive ourselves? And, most important, What in God’s name did writer/director Caland offer Whitaker in order to convince him to act in this movie? Women? Cars? Women in cars? Enlightenment? Enlightened women in cars? Eternal life? Whatever the answer, the 2007 Best Actor Academy Award winner deserves everything he got and more for sacrificing his own credibility to save this piece of garbage from straight-to-video purgatory. At once self-important and thin as tissue paper, Ripple Effect may be the first movie to combine the vacant sentimentality of the modern self-help melodrama with the shoddy camerawork and low-grade suspense of Cinemax soft-core porn (minus, unfortunately, anything even resembling sex). And if it’s not the first, surely we, as reasonable people, can agree that it should be the last. Writer/director Caland plays Amer Atrash, a famous clothes designer living in Los Angeles, who has apparently fooled the world into believing used army jackets, parachute pants, and floppy reggae caps are the height of fashion rather than the outfit bongo players wear on laundry day. Though on the surface he's the picture of material and familial success, Atrash’s life is actually coming apart. His design firm is on the verge of financial ruin, his wife (Madsen) and young daughter have grown disillusioned with him, and he has the worst haircut in the history of the world. But instead of being reasonable and recognizing that his problems are the result of his being a bad husband, a worse businessman, and a total failure at choosing a barber and then going from there, Atrash decides that an accidental but violent run-in with Philip (Whitaker) that took place 15 years earlier is wreaking karmic havoc on his life and that the only way to move forward is to make amends. In other words, like so many modern-day spiritualists, he blames the universe … or his chi … or something and then punishes us, his unwitting viewers, by making us sit through a 20-minute tear-filled discussion about the importance of forgiveness, the power of love, and the life-affirming interconnectivity of everything that ever was and ever will be. So thank God Whitaker is here to bring a bit of real pathos and ambiguity to his role as the spiritual guide who’s gained wisdom through adversity, because without his Oscar-winning chops, this exercise in pop mysticism would have been too painful to bear.