Review: Columbus Circle

Selma Blair stars in this Kevin Pollak co-written thriller about a house-bound girl who becomes the centrepiece of a convoluted con. Warning: film may be bad for health.

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Co-writer of Columbus Circle Kevin Pollak plays concierge to an upmarket Manhattan apartment block. When go-getting, good-looking couple Jason Lee and Amy Smart move into their new apartment, Pollak’s dogsbody decides, as if it’s commonplace to greet residents with the news that their new home was witness to a recent death, to detail exactly where he found the body.

“They say she fell down the stairs,” he tells them nonchalantly. He describes how a neighbour heard a loud bang, so he raced to the apartment to find the door unlocked and the old lady lying at the bottom of the stairs. She wasn’t dead though. She was trying to speak. Jason Lee asks: “What was she trying to say?” “I have no idea” is the immediate reply while Pollak – remember he is also the co-writer of this film – panders to the needs of heightened drama with words such as “it’s now all a blur” and “wasn’t it strange the door was unlocked.”

Of course, though he hasn’t told anybody before, he did have an inkling as to what the woman was trying to say. And, instead of telling the police, he tells these two strangers who are still in the giddy phase of welcoming a new home into their lives. She was asking “why” he says. “Does that make any sense?” he asks. The answer to that is: No! It makes no sense Kevin – 1) stop contradicting yourself, and 2) please stop explaining the plot to us.

That scene seems to conjure the lasting memory Columbus Circle will leave on its audience. It’s muddled, confused and convoluted, traits that make their way seamlessly into the acting, which ranges from laughably bad to mundane mediocrity. Director George Gallo (who wrote the brilliant Midnight Run starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin) proves less impressive at the helm. Hampered by his own stale dialogue and one-dimensional characters, Columbus Circle wallows too heavily in cliché – both in its plot and its execution. One predictable moment sees agoraphobic Selma Blair hear the couple across the hall having a raging argument. She hears bangs, screams, shouting. She slowly goes to the peephole and, unsurprisingly, the music reaches a crescendo with wife-beater Jason Lee’s entire face filling the fish eye lens. What he intends to gain from looking through the peephole from the door’s exterior is left to the imagination, much like, it pains me to say, the point of the film.

“The writer-director team believe their film is so convoluted they explain what is going on every five minutes with long-winded descriptions of the plot.”

That isn’t to say Columbus Circle doesn’t have an element of intrigue. It begins with the murder of an old lady. To Gallo’s credit, he executes this scene with the feverish, panic-stricken tension of been awoken in the night to a noise by the bedside. Giovanni Ribisi’s police detective shows up to begin the investigation, immediately suspecting foul play. He checks with the neighbour across the hall to see if she heard anything. But house-bound Selma Blair won’t come out. It transpires her agoraphobia has prevented her from leaving the apartment for many years. Shortly after, Amy Smart and Jason Lee move into the vacant dead woman’s residence. One night, they are heard violently arguing and Selma Blair welcomes the grieving wife into her home. She thinks she’s helping the woman but it is all a ruse. You see, Selma Blair is heiress to a huge fortune and the new couple across the hall are scheming to get their hands on the money. But who can she trust? And since she can’t leave her apartment because of her phobia, how can she escape?

The film’s interesting premise is hampered throughout by Gallo and Pollak’s script. These characters are built on hollow foundations which is personified by Jason Lee’s caricature performance and Amy Smart’s pitifully stagnant delivery of lines as if reading them from cue cards positioned in her eye line. Gallo and Pollak also feel the need to spoon-feed the audience with long-winded descriptions of the plot. It stalls the film’s forward momentum and takes you out of the story. It is also evidence that even the writer-director team believe their film is so convoluted they need to explain what is going on every five minutes. Admittedly, while it is muddled and unsure of itself, it isn’t complicated. In fact, it is derivative, conventional and malnourished but it doesn’t need Robert McKee to describe what’s going on. But if McKee, the man who wrote the bible on modern storytelling, was to grade Gallo and Pollak’s effort, I doubt he’d find it worth a passing grade.

While Selma Blair tries her best with limited material and Giovanni Ribisi stands out in an unfortunately small role, there’s isn’t much to recommend about Columbus Circle. Generally, the acting is so bad you wonder if this publicly released version is actually a very well presented read-through. The tension feels staged and is entirely predictable, the dialogue is flat, the characters paper thin, and the mystery a tangled mess. No wonder the actors look confused – or in Amy Smart’s case, a state of conscious coma. By the time the film grinds to its equally nonsensical conclusion, that conscious coma has broken through the fourth wall and lodged itself in the cerebrum of its blissfully unaware audience. Therefore, this review must come with a medical warning: watching Columbus Circle may be bad for your health.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

Directed by: George Gallo
Written by: George Gallo, Kevin Pollak
Starring: Selma Blair, Giovanni Ribisi, Amy Smart, Jason Lee, Kevin Pollak, Beau Bridges
Released: 2012 / Genre: Suspense/Thriller / Country: USA / IMDB

Buy on DVD: DVD | Blu-ray

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Scott Reply

    Ooh 1 star?

    I have this to watch at home…. or have I sent it on? I cannot remember. Anyway I will go in a little less ambitiously now!

    Thanks man

  2. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Love Kevin Pollak, love Selma Blair – annoyed this film isn’t better. I’ll probably give it a watch someday, but after this review, it’s moved well down the list.

  3. Avatar
    Evan Crean Reply

    Sounds terrible. Definitely won’t bother with this one.

  4. Avatar
    biteler Reply

    wow ….doesn’t get much worse than this. frankly these are all b-list actors at best , and the director is not very good at all , and the plot is structured like a very bad student film. what a waste of money for the investors , and what a stain on a nyc neighborhood , eck.

  5. Avatar
    ruth Reply

    My initial reaction is, Selma Blair still acting?? 🙂 I only remember her from Cruel Intentions, I think that’s her in it right? Anyway, I don’t think she’s a good actress.

  6. Avatar
    John Scorsece Reply

    George Gallo has spent more $ on making films that made less $ in film history. He should stick to writing or maybe open a bakery.

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    Pat Baker, Jr. Reply

    I enjoyed this film, and I don’t care what the others have said. It starts with a murder and held my attention throughout the entire film. The acting was good, the screenplay help my attention and unfolded just the way that it should, and the setting — Columbus Circle — was perfect. Was glad to see Amy Smart and Selma Blair in two meaty roles, and that also goes for Jason Lee and Beau Bridges. Too bad this little film could not have been able to “choo choo all the way home.”

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