During an early scene between bank robber Eddie Dodson (Jim Sturgess) and the beautiful girl Pauline (Isabel Lucas) who becomes inexplicably attached to him, she asks him “where are you taking me?” His unusual answer of “I was gonna go to a pawn shop,” resolutely establishes the quirky and off-kilter stylization that maps out the remainder of Tristan Patterson’s Electric Slide. It doesn’t always succeed, but it’s a uniquely endearing effort to say the least.
As the mid 1980’s glam and dapper version of Bonnie and Clyde (and based on the real life exploits of The Gentleman Robber), Dodson and Pauline embark on a string of bank robberies across California, she pleasantly waiting in the car as if on permanent vacation and he using a note, a fake gun and his irrevocable charm to pass notes to women tellers and walk out with a sack full of money. Sixty one times in all.
With little motivational back story besides the fact Eddie owns a failing kitsch furniture store while largely in debt to local crime boss Roy (Christopher Lambert), Electric Slide doesn’t really care about narrative importance, instead trading in pomp and style. This negation of realism, bracketed with a soundtrack chock full of New Wave pop like Gang of Four’s “Damaged Goods” or X’s “Adult Books” and cinematographer Darren Tiernan’s dreamy, candy colored aesthetic create a heightened sense of Los Angeles that feels like someone’s halcyon remembrance of the era rather than an actual recreation.
Even more streamlined is the relationship between Dodsen and Pauline. They first meet in a movie theater (watching Jim McBride’s Breathless, which is itself a remake of Jean Luc Godard’s nouvelle vague classic that Electric Slide so desperately emulates) and continue to bump into each other around the expansive city as if they were destined for each other. Cosmic lovers in crime indeed.
As Eddie, Sturgess imbues his character with a nasally pitch, sounding as if he’s eternally stoned. For her part, relative newcomer Isabel Lucas is a startling and eye-catching presence, but a bit vacant in her thankless role. Perhaps the ode to Godard and his insistence on muse Anna Karina as she rapturously held our attention through wordless dalliances and ruminative expressions in her numerous collaborations with him, is the foundation for the couple in Electric Slide, but Patterson is no Godard. Their relationship is simply there, uninspired and relatively chemistry free.
Likewise, certain aspects of Patterson’s storytelling feel amateurish, such as a nihilistic voice-over from Dodson in the beginning which is quickly abandoned and several characters, including Patricia Arquette’s Beverly Hills lover, who come and go like an afterthought or underdeveloped script.
Even if Electric Slide features a variety of shortcomings, it’s still a film I recommend for its distinctive style and willingness to avoid the rote characteristics of its genre. Writer-director Patterson wants to tell the age old story of the criminal couple in fashionably chic methods, and it’s a film that looks and feels quite like nothing else recently. In this universe of cookie-cutter efforts, that’s reason enough to celebrate.
Electric Slide opens in North Texas on Friday, April 3rd at the AMC Grapevine Mills.