Film review: 'Sorry' too aloof — yet powerful

Published: Friday, April 14 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

SORRY, HATERS — ** 1/2 — Robin Wright Penn, Abdel Kechiche, Sandra Oh; not rated, probable R (profanity, violence, ethnic slurs, vulgarity).

"Sorry, Haters" has a loose, improvised feel, which seems to suggest that screenwriter/director Jeff Stanzler let his actors make up much of their dialogue. It also has a troubling aloofness, a coldness that is unfortunate, because a film like this needs to have an emotional center.

Still, there's no denying the power of its sucker-punch ending.

This post-9/11 thriller follows Ashade (Abdel Kechiche), an Arab chemist who's been unable to find comparable work in the states. So he's working as a cabbie in New York City, which is how he meets television executive Phyllis MacIntyre (Robin Wright Penn).

"Philly," as she prefers to be called, is a bit pushy and won't take no for an answer when she offers to help Ashade and his sister-in-law, Elouise (Elodie Bouchez), who are trying to free his brother from captivity in Syria. As it turns out, Philly has her own reasons for wanting to help Ashade, who may be right to question her motives.

That's about all that can be said about the film without spoiling some major plot twists — one of the biggest involving the relationship between Wright Penn's character and another played by Sandra Oh.

Stanzler's first feature since 1992's "Jumpin' at the Boneyard" does build steam as it goes, though the somewhat slow pacing works against it. And an overbearing musical score, which includes songs by avant-rockers Sonic Youth, doesn't help.

The acting is strong, though. Wright Penn's character is obviously the trickier one to play, because she is supposed to be a bit of an enigma, but the character arc of Kechiche's Syrian expatriate is also a challenge.

"Sorry, Haters" is not rated but would probably receive an R for scattered use of strong sexual profanity, violence (including an act of terrorism and violence against women), use of ethnic slurs and racial epithets, and some crude sexual references and language. Running time: 86 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com