I enjoy seeing films that seem to pop out of nowhere. Not the indie films that have been written about at all the festivals and are only now coming to your neck of the woods, but the films that just show up at the cineplex leaving you to wonder, “What could that be?” I’m always happy when one of these comes around because it means giving attention to something that might not otherwise get it. Sometimes, I am treated to a memorable cinematic experience. Other times, I get stuck with garbage like APPROACHING MIDNIGHT.
Wesley, or Staff Sergeant Wesley Kent as he is called throughout the film, has been wounded in battle and is now returning home from Afghanistan. He is plagued with guilt over the death of his friend, A.J. (Brandon T. Jackson – don’t get excited, we’ll get to it). No one is very excited to see him come home. They seem awkward around him, figuring they need to be polite to him because he’s a veteran. Still, everyone seems like they would rather he went away.
It isn’t until he returns home that he discovers that his old girlfriend, Aspen (Jana Kramer – hold still) has died in a car accident. He finds this out in the most embarrassing succession of scenes that try to ramp up both the drama and the exposition, dropping the ball on both. First, we are treated to Carollette Williams as A.J.’s hysterical widow, chewing the scenery with such vigor that I started moving back in my seat, afraid she might tear through the screen and eat the audience. During her teary fit, she then turns on a dime to drop the information that yes, Aspen is dead, her father Mayor Malverne has considerable influence in town and is running for governor.
While he’s at her house, we also get a very good look at a DVD case for TROPIC THUNDER, a film which co-starred Brandon T. Jackson, the same actor portraying the deceased A.J. Jackson made an impression in that film. In this film however, his role is limited to still photos and a very brief shot of VHS footage that looks like it was shot many years ago. His performance takes up mere seconds of screen time. More use is made of Jana Kramer, her scenes also related in old video footage, which is sprinkled throughout the film in very brief doses. It’s only enough to give you the impression that Kramer is a talented actress and better than most of the people in APPROACHING MIDNIGHT. Sure enough, posts on the IMDB seem to point to Jackson’s scenes being shot in 2004 while Kramer’s were shot in 2006.
Anyway, back to the story. I’m not just going to pick on Carollette Williams for her embarrassing scene, since the following moments of the film are at least as bad. Sgt. Kent re-introduces himself to Mayor Malverne (Jeff Stetson), who barely seems to acknowledge that his daughter is dead. In an exchange taken from the remedial course of exposition, Wesley asks a bartender why everyone loves the mayor so much and is given a complete rundown of his munitions business, punctuated by a high-caliber machine gun round that she dramatically plops down right next to his glass of water. I guess she always has a few behind the counter in case anyone asks about the mayor?
Of course, it turns out that there is something funny going on. This is something Wesley finds out in such a rushed and half thought-out manner, it still boggles the senses I sit here recalling it. I was marveling as I realized the film was about to be over before it seemed to get moving. It’s hard to know how this happened. Wesley has a couple confrontations, in which the mayor shares way too much information and Wesley spouts some pretty awful dialogue. Then he does some basic investigating, seemingly without any interruption, leading to an insane climax in which people run around a warehouse, shooting at each other. All of this happens within ten minutes and most of it is related through Wesley’s narration. This is just sloppy screenwriting, folks.
Now, there is an argument to be made that the mystery storyline is of secondary importance. Much of the film focuses instead on the alienation Wesley feels after returning home from Afghanistan (He has several artifacts from the Iraq War in his keepsakes, signaling that the location was changed when world events moved faster than the film’s production.). This is an important story that needs telling. Too often the troops return home, often plagued by physical and psychological scars that are not easily healed, if ever.
Unfortunately, APPROACHING MIDNIGHT fails in this regard as well. We’re saddled with the performances and most of them just aren’t up to snuff. Staff Sergeant Wesley Kent is played by Sam Logan Khaleghi, whose facial expression and tone rarely change throughout the entire film. Jeff Stetson makes for a decidedly weak and uncommitted villain as the mayor. Most of the supporting characters aren’t much better.
There are a few actors which make a positive impression, but their appearances are far too brief. I will mention them here by name so they don’t get lumped in with my criticisms and perhaps get some attention for a job well done. They are: Mia Serafino as the mayor’s other daughter, Jessica René Hilzey as Wesley’s sister and Darryl Perry as the current governor.
APPROACHING MIDNIGHT is an auteur piece. Sam Logan Khaleghi stars, writes, produces and directs this film. It seems like this has been in the works for a while and it’s hard to pick on a film that is such an obvious labor of love. Still, APPROACHING MIDNIGHT is so uneven, pieced together and lacking in several key areas that it’s impossible to see past its many flaws. The action jumps from one thing to the next, and yet nothing much seems to happen. Perhaps what Khaleghi needed was someone to point out how certain characters contradict others or how the story lacks any sense of forward momentum. Though given how long this film has been in production, I’m sure Khaleghi has heard his share of naysayers. It’s just too bad they couldn’t have been more productive.
And don’t get me started on the sound design, probably the worst I’ve heard in a theatrical film and one that doesn’t pass muster in many of the straight to video films I’ve seen either. Ambient noise is all over the place while other actors are overmic’ed, often in the same scenes. It’s a constant distraction from beginning to end.
APPROACHING MIDNIGHT is a film with admirable goals. But somewhere during its production, it seems to have lost its way in telling a coherent story. What is left is just not pulled off with enough finesse to recommend it under any circumstances. ½★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG for some bloodless killings
– Running time: 1hr 26mins.