In today’s world of independent films, almost every filmmaker wants to show a slice of life that they believe no one has seen before. Whether it’s from a rural area or situation that offers no solution, their point is usually to bring you into their story from the middle and leaving you there. Aside from tremendous performances given by Washington and Rasuk, the script fails to gives Buddy Giovinazzo's ‘Life is Hot in Cracktown.’ any life outside of violence and despair.
Starring a group of well known actors, including Fantastic Four’s Kerry Washington and Superman Returns’ Brandon Routh, the film is based on four collections of short stories in which residents of a welfare hotel are left without an ounce of care or protection as we see rapes, robbery, neglected and abused children.
Washington plays Marybeth, a pre-op transsexual working as a prostitute and living with her lover, Benny (Desmond Harrington), a small time burglar. While they live as “married couple”, Benny despises Marybeth going out to earn enough money her next operation.
Manny (Victor Rasuk), despite drug addicts coming in and out, works the late shift in an all night bodega, and then goes home to deal with his wife Concetta (Shannyn Sassomon), who can’t get their sick infant son from crying all night. This gives Manny little time to sleep before he heads over to his second job as a security guard in a Welfare hotel. In the same tenement, ten years old Willy (Canipe) struggles to find food for himself and his younger sister while their mother (Illeana Douglas) and her abusive boyfriend (Edoardo Ballerini) look to score their next set of drugs. Helping Willy in his quest is another wanderer slumming by the hotel (Routh).
Meanwhile, gangbanger Romeo (Ross) loves to terrorize the elderly and weak while secretly mourning and seeking vengeance on the death of his younger brother.
While each story presents a grim look at reality, the film goes no where in offering a third act. It wants to be stuck in bleakness and despair. The only authority in the film, a cop played Vondie Curtis-Hall, just strolls around the block ignoring the outcries that lies in front of him.
Washington, in a grittier performance than her work in ‘Dead Girl,’ gives her best acting as a transsexual. Her story is the only one with depth and worth exploring. For most of film roles thus far, Ross has played one too many troubled teenaged characters, and he seems to be in a comfort zone here as a ruthless leader of violent misfits. Yet, the script fails to give him enough time from being one dimensional. The other standout is Rasuk, who shows range as a father and husband conflicted with doing his as both.
Other characters, from Routh’s wanderer to the unrecognizable Flynn Boyle’s prostitute, come and go without having any purpose. Unlike HBO’s standout series, ‘The Corner’ and ‘The Wire,’ the bleakness in ‘Cracktown’ doesn’t offer a solution that leaves a positive outlook on life.