18th May2021

’86 Melrose Avenue’ Review

by Jim Morazzini

Stars: Dade Elza, Kambra Potter, Jake Red, Anastasia Antonia, Anastasia Antonia, Gary Sturm, Jim O’Heir, Terri Ivens | Written and Directed by Lili Matta

A bloodied man makes his way down a Los Angeles street while a police helicopter flies overhead looking for him. This is Travis (Dade Elza; You Can’t Have It) he’s armed, dangerous and heading towards Melrose Avenue. Which is where he ducks into the first open building he finds, the art gallery at 86 Melrose Avenue and takes everyone hostage. And then the flashbacks begin.

We get a quick scene of the gallery’s two very obviously gay owners bickering over the company’s finances. Then we go to Travis’ house where his wife Madeline (Kambra Potter; Bullets, Fangs and Dinner at 8) is having dinner with an old friend, Dallas (Jake Red; Devil’s Junction: Handy Dandy’s Revenge). An argument between the two men turns deadly and Travis goes on the run.

Much of the first part of 86 Melrose Avenue cuts back and forth between these events and the show at the gallery. Lebanese photographer Nadia (Anastasia Antonia; Dark Moon Rising, The Cloth) is still jumpy from growing up in a war zone, the same reason she’s not happy there’s an Israeli, Avi (Gregory Zarian; Mystery Incorporated) covering the event.

If you’re thinking that this doesn’t sound anything like 86 Melrose Avenue’s trailer, poster or press release, you’re right. The trailer contains just about every bit of action in the film. I was expecting a police siege film along the lines of A Clear Shot. Instead it’s a talky drama that dwells heavily on the characters’ past traumas and how they affect them now.

Travis as it turns out is a combat veteran with PTSD, Nadia’s childhood in Beirut and her work as an ER nurse has left her with it as well. Bill (Gary Sturm; Sasquatch Hunters, Happy Hunting), one of the critics saw his young son commit suicide during a bout of depression. You get the idea, everyone here has baggage and we get to watch them unpack it.

The police eventually show up and surround the building but there’s no real tension. Writer/director Lili Matta (Born in Beirut, Life Gets in the Way) keeps 86 Melrose Avenue focused on the characters’ stories, not the siege. It’s just a reason to keep them all there.

It’s actually so unimportant to the plot that 86 Melrose Avenue doesn’t end with its resolution. The last half hour of the film takes place at the police station as Detective Philips (Jim O’Heir; Parks and Recreation, Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves) and Detective Garcia (Terri Ivens; Coven, The Last Exorcist) question the survivors. But the questions seem to be as much about their personal lives rather than the ordeal they just went through.

Maybe I would have been more receptive to 86 Melrose Avenue if I had known I would be seeing a drama. But when I sit down to a film that claims “action has a new address” a serious, and seriously talky, film isn’t likely to satisfy me. Matta obviously has a lot to say about mental illness, gun violence, acceptance and trauma. Things that should be dealt with. But trying to pass the film off as something it’s not isn’t going to get her points to a receptive audience. As it is several of the stories are heavy handed to the point of feeling like lectures. And that is a big turn off on its own.

Those looking for a dose of heavy drama may find 86 Melrose Avenue worth their while. There’s enough tales of woe related that at least some should appeal to fans of the genre. But anyone taken in by the film’s advertising is likely to end up very unhappy and unsatisfied.

86 Melrose Avenue is available on demand, streaming and on DVD now from Gravitas Ventures.

Review originally posted on Voices From the Balcony

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