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'Kill Your Darlings' concept good; movie about poet doesn't resonate

By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut

November 14

 

WAUKESHA - Was it a bad idea to make a film about the iconoclastic poet Allen Ginsberg and his cohorts?

No. But it was an idea that resulted in a mediocre movie.

“Kill Your Darlings” is, first of all, an unfortunate title. It’s a title more appropriate for a slasher flick the adolescent crowd would patronize at a midnight Saturday screening, or a cable TV movie about a real-life mother who inexplicably murders her offspring.

Then there are a few clichŽs masquerading as characters: a missing-in-action mom whose son can do no wrong (a part undertaken here by Kyra Sedgwick); a long-suffering gal pal who’ll stand by her meandering man no matter what (Elizabeth Olsen); a pedantic professor who’s more in the know than he seems to be; his colleague, an avuncular dean; and a libido-led librarian, the type of lass one seems to encounter only in movies.

There are, too, the five main characters: Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe, who starred in all eight “Harry Potter” films); Ginsberg’s significant other, Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan); Lucien’s former boyfriend, David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall); Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston, grandson of director John); and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). The problem here is that none of these actuality-based young men comes across as a sympathetic persona. The viewer is unaffected by one’s death, another’s imprisonment and the quandary these events cause in the life of a third.

The actors portraying the big five are sufficiently skilled (although I can’t resist the temptation to accuse Foster of doing a movie-long Richard Masur imitation). However, the actors - and writers John Krokidas (who also produced and directed) and Austin Bunn - aren’t so skilled as to make the filmgoer care about this collection of snotty, hedonistic scofflaws, talented writers though these scofflaws may be.

The ending of “Kill Your Darlings” suggests an alternative movie. Still photographs of the stars appear onscreen with the credits. Krokidas could’ve elected to use the stills for a Ken Burns kind of documentary. The tale of America’s Beat writers deserves to be told, after all, and telling it is a fine idea (presuming last year’s Kerouac  book-based “On the Road” - which I did not see - revealed just part of the story).

First-time feature director Krokidas focuses on one aspect of the Beats’ story - the murder mystery aspect. A murder mystery should be “galvanizing,” which is the very adjective “Kill Your Darlings” publicists have applied to Krokidas’ film. But this murder mystery is cluttered with fast-moving mini-flashbacks and flash-forwards, with bits of comic relief that go over (or, at least in the case of the small audience the day I previewed it, went over) like a lead balloon and with the presentation of Ginsberg and company as decidedly unendearing.

Due to sexual content (including male nudity), language, drug use and brief violence, the film has been rated R.

The publicists have characterized “Kill Your Darlings” as “a picture of the nascent Beat Generation that we’ve never seen before.” A much clearer and more detailed picture remains to be made.

‘Kill Your Darlings’

**

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Ben Foster, Kyra Sedgwick, Elizabeth Olsen

Directed by: John Krokidas

Rating: R

Running time: 100 minutes

Release date: Friday

Showings: www.marcustheaters.com.