Eric D. Snider

Bondage

Instead of "based on a true story" or "inspired by actual events," "Bondage" begins with this notice: "This s*** really happened." So I guess we're all laid-back and kickin' it old-school, dawg.

The s*** really happened to Eric Allen, the film's writer/director, who has named the character representing himself Charlie Edwards and cast Michael Angarano to play him. Charlie and his younger brother Mark (Evan Ellingson) are high school students in a well-to-do Orange County neighborhood, the adopted children of parents Bob (Eric Lange) and Elaine (Illeana Douglas). Mom and Dad are both overly pious church organists, though Dad is a nudist in his spare time and possibly worse than that.

Charlie and Mark enjoy drinking beer, smoking pot and perpetrating minor incidents of vandalism. However, when one of those minor incidents turns unexpectedly major, Charlie finds himself in the Orange County Juvenile Hall, a sort of jail for teens with most of the types of no-account bums you find in TV and movie prisons, only shrunk down to teen size.

A warden named Willie (Michael K. Williams) constantly threatens Charlie with a worse fate: being sent to the California Youth Authority, the big-time facility for incorrigible minors. You don't want to go to the California Youth Authority, and Charlie tries a number of methods -- including pretending to be crazy -- to avoid it.

Charlie is performed confidently by Angarano (best known as Jack's son on "Will & Grace"), who seems to have potential as a strong leading man and who made a smart choice taking a role as meaty as this one. But all the other characters in the film are thin, and even Charlie himself doesn't have much of an arc, turning out in the end approximately the same as he was in the beginning.

If the film is meant as an indictment of the careless way we deal with our troubled youth -- and I suspect that is the idea -- it needs to omit the extraneous material (like the scene with Charlie and Mark's deaf friend: why?) and overcome its tendency to be melodramatic. The danger of writing and directing a film based on your own life is that it's hard to tell whether you're conveying the story in an interesting way, or whether it's only interesting in your head.

Grade: C+

Not rated, probably R for abundant harsh profanity, brief violence, some non-sexual nudity

1 hr., 47 min.

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