Good sentiment blunted by confusion in Powder
Written and Directed by Victor Salva.
Starring Mary Steenburgen, Sean Patrick Flannery, Lance Henriksen, and Jeff Goldblum.
Sony Fresh Pond.
By Rob Wagner
Most likely created by some sort of mystic, the film Powder is indeed strange. Powder is the story of the wacky, wild adventures of an albino completely hairless teenager who has the power to use an extraordinary amount of his brain capacity; it's also typically American in its blatant use of moral superlatives.
The title character (Sean Patrick Flannery) scores completely off the scale on a school IQ test and can recite any page of any book he's ever read. Due to his mother's having been struck by lightning during her pregnancy, Powder (whose real name is Jeremy Reed) now has these qualities plus a mysterious biomagnetic ability that affects electronic instruments around him and enables him to manipulate things electrically and magnetically. Of course, he's also telepathic.
It's an interesting idea for a film, but it is done poorly. Because Powder has the use of more of his brain than the audience, we are expected to view what he says with more credibility than any "normal" human. This is a worthy goal for a filmmaker, to develop a philosophy in an attempt to affect the audience, and have Powder embody that philosophy so that people will see him as some sort of role model. In general, this idea could work, but writer and director Victor Salva obviously misses the boat here.
Instead of the independence embodied in most people, Powder believes that all humans are linked, every single one, in some sort of single-consciousness. The idea of using Powder as a role model can work, but the audience has to view Powder as a worthy role model. Here, Powder views people - unwilling to accept the idea of a single-consciousness purely on faith - as closed-minded. This dogmatic type of view nullifies any worth Powder might have as a role model, and it dooms the message of the film, which supposedly presents a different "higher" view of things, to influence people.
Powder also hates the way that people live. Since he has telepathic abilities, he can see all the deceit, all the conflicting thoughts and postures of everyone. In the meager advertising campaign that publicists launched for the film, they emphasized Powder's hatred of hunting. He somehow telepathically links a hunter to the dying deer he just shot, so that the hunter can feel the pain and impending death that the deer feels.
Besides the message implied by Salva, the film itself is just plain awful. With cliché after cliché and an abundance of predictable scenes, it's a wonder anyone could think this movie was worth making. A semi-conscious two-year old could predict exactly what would happen, and who would suddenly reappear in the film. The whole inclusion of a love interest is inane and superfluous to the message Salva was trying to get across. The supposedly touching scenes are obviously predictable, and though some are well-acted, they add nothing but another wacky spin to the film.
One good point about the movie is the inclusion of Jeff Goldblum as Powder's high school science teacher. I don't know who typecast Jeff Goldblum as the nutty scientist pondering technology versus humanity, but it really works.
Though Powder is interesting and a bit thought-provoking, my thoughts are mostly to use this film as an example of what not to do in filmmaking. It is on the whole a poorly constructed and clichéd film that ends up with an awkward message. In theory, we are supposed to model our lives around what Powder would do, or what he would think about what we're doing. Goldblum admits that we live in a dark age of man, where we are doing everything we can merely so we don't kill each other. Therefore, we are supposed to live our lives more like Powder would have us live them. Well, I don't buy it.