Film review: Unknown stars in 'Motel' likable

But coming-of-age plot's focus may limit the audience

Published: Friday, Sept. 1 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

"THE MOTEL" — ** 1/2 — Jeffrey Chyau, Sung Kang, Jade Wu; not rated, probable R (profanity, vulgarity, nudity, brief sex, violence, racial epithets).

The fact that the comedy-drama "The Motel" features no recognizable stars should not be held against it. If anything, its fresh-faced cast is one of its biggest assets.

The film's story isn't nearly as new. It's pretty much a customary coming-of-age tale, though it is told with refreshing honesty and realism. That alone is enough to place it at least a notch above most of the movies that are currently in theatrical release.

The film's title refers to a seedy and rundown New York-area motel that's run by the Chin family. Early teen Ernest Chin (Jeffrey Chyau) is bored with this humdrum existence, so he's constantly butting heads with his stern mother (Jade Wu).

In particular, she disapproves of Ernest's friendship with Sam (Sung Kang), a new guest staying at the motel who decides to take the youngster under his wing.

To say this would-be father figure is a bad influence is something of an understatement. However, Sam does help Ernest get over some of his painful shyness — and helps him reveal his crush on his female best friend, Christine (Samantha Futerman).

It's unfortunate that screenwriter/director Michael Kang chose to focus so much on Ernest's R-rated interests. Otherwise, this film, Kang's first full-length feature, could have reached a wider, more all-ages audience. It would have deserved it.

But his confident direction seems to have paid off in other ways. The performances by the mostly unknown cast are solid, especially the one turned in by newcomer Chyau. He's a very likable lead.

"The Motel" is not rated but would probably receive an R for strong sexual language (including profanity, vulgar references and slang and innuendo), flashes of male and female nudity (as well as nude photos), sexual contact, violence (rough-housing and bullying) and racial epithets. Running time: 76 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com