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Taboo (May 3/03)

Amazingly enough, Taboo - a truly awful movie - contains a few fairly talented actors. Leading the pack is Nick Stahl, who's already proven his abilities in films like In the Bedroom and Bully. He's certainly one of the most electrifying actors of his generation, so his appearance in this absolutely terrible film is baffling. Perhaps he owed a favor to the director, and was forced to take a starring role; if he shows up on talk shows in a few years and says that's what happened, I wouldn't be surprised. Not only is Taboo completely inept and ludicrous, but it's pointless and boring. There are few films that are as astoundingly bad as this one, and considering the fact that there are some talented folks in the cast, that's really a shame.

Taboo transpires mostly over the course of one long night, and six friends have gathered in a huge mansion. The house belongs to Christian (Stahl), who's living with Elizabeth (January Jones), and the two have invited their four friends to break in the new pad. But as the night progresses, it becomes clear that one of the six has a sinister agenda on his/her mind. In a sequence that was set a year earlier, the friends played a game called "taboo" - meaning they each received a card with a naughty question on it (ie "would you sleep with a relative?"), and were told to answer yes or no. The answers were supposed to be anonymous, but someone in the group ensured that each person got a question specific to their sexual fantasies - and now, a year later, we learn that the friends have been blackmailed because of them.

Taboo strikes the wrong note from the word go, opening with the bizarre game. The dialogue has a forced, stagy quality to it; these people are talking in such a way that no real person ever would. It's the sort of problem that plagues a lot of films based on plays, but since Taboo is an original screenplay, that's clearly not an issue here. Screenwriter Chris Fisher is either incredibly untalented or he wrote the script over a weekend, because either way, the final product comes off as shoddy and rushed. The whole production feels as though it were assembled out of necessity; the actors spend most of their time wandering around, waiting for their next line. Even the direction is perfunctory - you can almost see director Max Makowski's thought process ("one of the characters is running… I'd better break out the shaky cam!")

But the biggest problem with Taboo is the wildly uneven pace and complete lack of a storyline. Setting the majority of the film over the course of one night isn't necessarily a bad idea, but Fisher clearly hasn't a clue what to do with these characters for such a prolonged period of time. He tries throwing in a variety of elements - the film veers wildly from murder mystery to trashy soap opera - but it just doesn't work. Nothing about the film works, not even Stahl's performance. He seems to be trying his darndest to make something out of this material, but even the most experienced actor would be hard-pressed to make something out of this scarcely developed character. If he's ever asked about this film in the future, he'd be well advised to tell everyone he was forced to do it - a la Keanu Reeves in The Watcher.

no stars out of