The Austin Chronicle

Complex World

Rated R, 81 min. Directed by James Wolpaw. Starring Stanley Matis, Dan Welch, Bob Owczarek, Margot Dionne, Daniel Von Vargen, Captain Lou Albano.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 18, 1991

How do you cinematically eulogize a near legendary rock 'n' roll club set in the downtown decay of Providence, Rhode Island? If you're writer/director James Wolpaw, it's by bringing international terrorists, a red-baiting presidential aspirant, political conspiracy, a sidewalk preacher and 100 pounds of plastic explosive into the picture, along with bands, barflies and bikers who might actually frequent such a place. Yes, Complex World is indeed a complex world. Yet Wolpaw keeps such seemingly disparate, possibly corny and even absurd elements juggled with a deft, fast-paced touch that makes the film undeniably engaging. This independently produced comedic thriller (of sorts) has a spirited zaniness that ultimately qualifies it -- as much as its energetic performances by groups like Providence cult heroes the Young Adults as well as NRBQ and Roomful of Blues, and canny takes on music club culture -- as a rock 'n' roll movie. Yet Complex World is also something more, something broader. Its dramatic elements may read like pure Hollywood high concept -- terrorists plant a time bomb in the bar owned by the son of an ex-CIA director who is running for president -- yet the plot unfolds with a campy charm that elicits an ever-increasing volley of chuckles and guffaws, all the while providing a strong spine for some winning performances by its largely unknown cast. Though its main protagonist is a disillusioned singer of negative folk songs (played with geeky charm by Matis, a geeky folksinger in real life), the film's real heart is Welch's portrayal of bar owner Jeff Burgess, whose streetwise existentialism of a man who's seen it all over the counter of the bar gives this quirky story its believability, which comes to a head in one telling line: “Sorry, we don't take bomb threats over the phone.” The story rolls out during one night at the Heartbreak Hotel (an actual music club in Providence, now gone), and while the camera constantly hops outside to follow the loopy plot twists, it also succinctly captures the vibe of the down 'n' dirty club scene. Complex World is a both fun and funny slice of cinematic entertainment, as well as a realistic visit to the wild world of the Heartbreak Hotel. All it might take to make this winning little film complete would be for the theater to serve some beer.

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