Danos del Amor

The DVD insert for Steve Kahn’s danos del amor is dedicated entirely to a series of congratulatory quotes, each packed to the brim with nuggets of praise (fantastic, great, inspired, surprising, imaginative, best, interesting, fresh, fun, charming, and good being just a few out of the lot). Obviously a lot of people enjoyed this short film, but I’m sorry to say I won’t be joining the quote-dropping ranks anytime soon. danos del amor starts out well enough, but soon sputters and jumps the tracks due to its inability to decide what the heck its purpose is when put before an audience.

The opening credits sequence is easily the best part of the film, since it uses the old device of the “romantic montage” without coming off as contrived. Steve Kahn, who is one of many self-proclaimed renaissance writer/director/actors in this independent film world, plays Michael Bender, and his girlfriend Mia is played by America Young. They have a nice chemistry as we watch them work out, peruse a Pottery Barn, and perform other lovey-dovey activities. The montage is very well shot, and the music chosen to accompany the montage is appropriately syrupy sweet.

After this initial sequence, however, problems began to pop up almost immediately. A plot point is set up in the form of Michael flirting with a lovely street dancer (Carolina Manrique), which in turn makes Mia extremely jealous. The entire design of danos del amor’s DVD package makes it seem as if the street dancer will come into play later on (the tagline is “a man, a woman… and the other woman” for Pete’s sake), but we never see her again. She’s merely a device to wedge our featured couple apart, and so for the movie’s promotional material to suggest otherwise is somewhat irritating.

So rather than pursue the character of the street dancer and thus explore a possibility or two (heaven forbid), we instead cut to a very badly edited scene in an apartment. And when I say the scene’s badly edited, you have to take my word. Every other cut is abrupt and left me delirious, which is surprising considering the smooth and visually appealing montage from earlier. The acting also goes downhill at this point, since Kahn is just a bit too broad and self-knowing to come off as any kind of real character. Oh, before I forget, this scene also features cameos by Shin Koyamada of The Last Samurai and Bradley James of The West Wing. Frankly I don’t know who these people are, but Kahn seems to be proud of their appearance in his film. Nevertheless, they don’t make any sort of impression in their few seconds on camera, so their celebrity, no matter how marginal, doesn’t matter.

The last section of the movie sees Michael, Mia, and Michael’s bald best friend going at it in a knock-down, drag-out martial arts brawl. I have to assume this was the only reason danos was made in the first place, since the fight choreography is better than average and Kahn doesn’t seem to care about character development or any sort of coherent story. Unfortunately, he manages to spoil this somewhat entertaining fight by adding creaky elements of comedy, including “wacky” subtitles expressing the inner monologues of our characters and sight gags straight out of a Scary Movie script. Maybe I’m an elitist, but the sight of an incredibly sharp sai being thrown through a man’s groin doesn’t elicit laughter.

I find it silly that anyone found this to be “one of the best short films” they’ve ever seen, as the editor of 24 claimed in his broadly flattering quote. If anything it’s merely serviceable, a harmless way to spend ten minutes of your life without fearing any sort of brain damage. Stage combatants will get more out of danos del amor than anyone else, but as for the rest of humanity, I imagine more shrugs and yawns than blind praise.

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