review by Diablo Joe
“Dead Air” is the latest film from the filmmaking team of Kevin and Vickie Hicks. Directed by Kevin, written by Vickie, and starring the two of them, the film is an eager, if unsuccessful, attempt at the sort of O. Henry-esque story that could have been the premise for a “Twilight Zone” or “One Step Beyond” episode. Like the less memorable of those classic shows’ stories, “Dead Air” suffers from a surfeit of melodrama and maudlin emotion.
The year is 1984. Kevin Hicks is William, a ho-hum widower father of two teen girls. William brings home several boxes of his late father’s possessions, stowed away for four decades. Rummaging through them in an attempt to rekindle memories of a father killed while William was just a boy, he finds his dad’s ham radio. Firing it up, he finds himself engaging Eva, a secretive but fascinating woman out in the airwaves. Conversing over many evenings, William senses a connection with her voice on the other end. Could Eva be a connection to his past? And if so, just how far back? And just how deeply intertwined?
Time travel can take many forms in fiction. While we usually think of physically reaching back in time, sometimes, as it is here, it’s a much more metaphysical breach of that dimension. “Dead Air” is an interesting, if not incredibly fresh, concept hobbled by a combination of flat direction and acting combined with a slow, plodding script that takes forever to get to a resolution and reveal that most audiences will see coming a mile away. Rambling radio conversations between William and Eva attempt to develop the characters and mete out clues to Eva’s secrets. But they’re so mundane and, thanks to William’s sad-sack desperate flirting, downright skeevy at times. Ham radio aside, the film is essentially a series of phone conversations through time, with each quizzing the other on oddball slang and vernacular into tedium. Appropriately handled, even a radio conversation can be riveting and thrilling. See the stunning “The Vast of Night” with its single-shot, four-minute plus take of a single character at a switchboard for an example of how this can be achieved with haunting effect.
It’s evident that “Dead Air” was shot with extremely limited resources. We’re never reasonably convinced of its 1908s setting, let alone four decades prior. Its cinematography is over lit and filled with static compositions and camerawork. These problems would be negligible had the film shined in more crucial areas such as story and acting. Neither William nor Eva are characters we can get behind. William is so awkward and unpleasant that we can’t see what Eva would ever see in him as a conversationist. And Eva herself is such a smeary mess of ill-defined traits that she never comes together with any sort of logic or reason. Her attributes exist to serve the story, not the character.
Were it thirty minutes, like a “Twilight Zone” episode, “Dead Air” might be received as a passingly clever attempt as a time-centric twist story. But at three times that length, combined with its uninteresting main characters, it’s too much of its title to succeed.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Dead Air” 2 out of 5 imps
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