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The Roommate (Frank's take)

01/03/2011. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy The Roommate in the USA - or Buy The Roommate in the UK

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Begging to be dubbed a lukewarm and lazy-eyed Single White Female knockoff for the millennium, director Christian E. Christiansen’s all-too-familiar lightweight psychological thriller The Roommate will tease and titillate the youth-oriented movie crowd which is not a stretch in the least.

Others, however, will want to evict The Roommate as yet another tired and recycled middling melodrama that parades around periled pretty pixies in predictable, formulaic fright mode.

Christiansen (“Zoomers”, “At Night”) helms a toothless thriller that stalls on a mediocre macabre level and never really delves into anything deeply haunting thanks to its paper thin made-for-TV manufacturing that may get a cheesy rise out of its Doritos-loving demographic that will instantly appeal to this “terrorizing tart” tale of obsession and perverse admiration. Sadly, there’s nothing remotely original or captivating about the lacklustre lurking that transpires in the forgettable fury of The Roommate.

Screenwriter Sonny Mallhi depicts an off-kilter college cutie one pickle short of a cozy deli sandwich but staggeringly treads in thin waters by relying on atmospheric nuances (over-the-top escalating violence, seemingly vulnerable young attractive hard bodies, conjured up conventional creepiness, a contemporary but uneventful pop tune-fueled soundtrack, etc.) that never quite propels The Roommate beyond its sluggish, pseudo-twisted leanings.

Sara (Minka Kelly from TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) is a small-town Iowan girl who arrives at her Southern Californian university with visions of studying fashion designing. Soon, Sara is introduced to a couple of personalities that will affect her freshman year collegiate experience with convincing impact. First, she flirts and bonds with frat party drummer Stephen (Cam Gigandet from “Twilight” and TV’s “The O.C.”) courtesy of a booze-infested buzz on. Moments later, Sara staggers into her dorm room where she meets the acquaintance of her roommate in the welcoming Rebecca (Leighton Meester from TV’s “Gossip Girl”).

At first, Rebecca seems friendly and stable but she harbours an overprotective nature that’s befittingly ominous. Sure, Sara and Rebecca become immediate friends but Rebecca isn’t too keen on allowing anyone else to share Sara’s undivided attention. The first one to realise how crazed Rebecca is acting is noticed by Sara’s party-hearty buddy Tracy (Aly Michalka from TV’s “Hellcats”), a victim of deranged Rebecca’s shower-stalking tendencies.

Basically, anyone close to the sociable Sara will get an automatic scorning from the clingy Rebecca. This does not sit well with Sara’s close associates that include former boyfriend Jason (Matt Lanter) and clothes queen sidekick Irene (Danneel Harris). In fact, Sara is living dangerously by unknowingly accepting a Thanksgiving invitation to Rebecca’s posh home. Rebecca’s parents (Frances Fisher and Tomas Arana) are worried about their daughter’s capacity for erratic behaviour as they contemplate her commitment to staying on her medication consistently. An unctuous college professor (Billy Zane) is on board as Sara’s fashion design instructor during her class sessions.

Nobody is safe from Rebecca’s unpredictable rage…even Sara’s cute furry cat Cuddles ends up helpless and harmed in an unlikely venue (some may recall Single White Female’s psychotic roomie Jennifer Jason Leigh taking out her frustration on an adorable animal, too…an impish puppy that met its deadly fate from its delusional owner). Gradually, the clueless Sara will put the pieces together to realize what an unsteady nutjob her college cohort really is in actuality.

Sadly, The Roommate is roguishly robotic and the thrills and chills are about as involving as a hackneyed magician trying out his borrowed tricks on unsuspecting school-aged kids. Christiansen’s flimsy neurotic narrative is something that one might find on a late-night cable channel that caters to the indiscriminate “chicks-in-cheeky-endangerment” enthusiast. The caustic confrontations and ultimate climax is telegraphed a mile away so the build-up to the Sara-Rebecca showdown is relentlessly pat at this point.

Although Meester is eerily inspired as the raucous Rebecca and revels admirably as the demented diva at large, the mawkish material undermines her natural naughtiness. Kelly is somewhat substandard as the popular It Girl Sara. For teen gal eye candy, Gigandet’s drummer boy Stephen projects nothing more than a synthetic boy toy stuck in a cockeyed caper between a couple of college-aged cupie dolls in conflict.

Hollowed in its makeshift hedonism, The Roommate is barrenly bleak in its potential as a poor man’s Single White Female for the mascara-wearing masses in tingling transition.

The Roommate (2011) Sony Pictures
1 hr. 31 mins.
Starring: Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly, Cam Gidandet, Danneel Harris, Aly Michalka, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Tomas Arana
Directed by: Christian E. Christiansen
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Critic’s Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

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