“The Vicious Kind” is another one of the dozens — hundreds? — of recent American independent films that barely qualifies as a “movie,” in the sense of something that gets seen in a significant number of theaters.
The picture was shot in Norfolk, Connecticut, and was screened at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, but it sat on a shelf somewhere until last weekend, when it had its one-screen theatrical premiere in New York City just days before debuting on DVD via Image Entertainment.
Like so many other indie films that never really go anywhere, “The Vicious Kind” has the feel of one of those well-acted, semi-interesting off-Broadway plays that debut in some small space downtown and are never produced again.
You might describe the genre as David Mamet lite or sub-Neil LaBute. Lots of heavy male conflict — and rough tangling with women — but not much believability or depth. They are usually stories about angry men who want a woman in their life but who are so profane and hostile that they tend to scare most romantic prospects away.
“The Vicious Kind” opens in a diner where Caleb Sinclaire (Adam Scott, above) gives his callow younger brother Peter (Alex Frost) advice about women. Caleb’s bottom line is that “they are all whores.”
This scabrous scene could have been lifted right out of David Mamet’s early play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” in which a jealous misogynist did everything in his power to discourage his buddy from getting serious about a woman. That play began with an obscene rant in a singles bar that was much like Caleb’s diner monologue.
In “The Vicious Kind” opening, we get to see the sensitive man under the barnacles when the younger brother goes to the bathroom — Caleb starts to cry and then quickly wipes his tears away before Peter returns.
Soon, Caleb is giving Peter and his new college girlfriend Emma (Brittany Snow) a ride home to the Sinclaire house for Thanksgiving.
Caleb is alienated from dad (J.K. Simmons) because of something terrible involving his late mother.
The set-up is shaky. Would the shy Peter bring his new girlfriend home for a four day weekend so soon? And would he want her to ride home with his trash-talking brother? Later in the film, when both brothers are vying for Emma’s attention, they get into sexual situations in their father’s home that are patently unbelievable.
What keeps writer-director Lee Toland Krieger’s movie going is his fine work with the cast and his non-condescending view of small-town, middle-class life. Scott and company are so good — and the setting feels so real — that the picture works on a scene-by-scene basis.
But, it never really adds up to much.