In “I Melt with You,” a quartet of 44-year-old men who were friends in college reunite for their annual weekend of debauchery and hedonism. Sounds fun, right? Not this time! This time, one of the four is being a real Debbie Downer, reminding everyone of how they’ve failed to live up to any of their youthful ideals, and how they’re all terrible human beings. They start to wonder if life is even worth living. Having sat the ludicrous tedium of “I Melt with You,” I know how they feel.
Seldom has a film that longed to be so insightful wound up being so superficial. Directed by Mark Pellington (“The Mothman Prophecies,” “Henry Poole Is Here”) and written by Glenn Porter from a story the two conceived together, “I Melt with You” attempts to turn a “Big Chill” scenario into a dark, thrilling character study, yet fails on almost every level. It seems to think it’s the first movie ever made in which middle-aged characters reflect on how they’ve changed since college, as if this is some awe-inspiring revelation. Then, when the story telegraphs what’s eventually going to happen, we’re stuck waiting for it to get around to it.
Not helping: the fact that all four central characters are loathsome. Jonathan (Rob Lowe) is a skeevy doctor who sells prescriptions to recreational users. Ron (Jeremy Piven) is a thieving financier. Richard (Thomas Jane) is a teacher who’s resentful at not being a successful novelist. Tim (Christian McKay) is Señor Buzzkill, mourning a tragic loss from five years ago and forcing the others to remember the things they swore they’d do when they were 19.
These four reprobates assemble at a California beach house to drink as much alcohol and take as many drugs as is humanly possible, and to cavort with whatever college-age locals they can lure back to the place. Pellington, whose background is mostly in music videos, depicts the days-long revelry in a garish, nightmarish fashion, as if the party is at once the most fun you’ve ever had and the dirtiest you’ve ever felt. This is likely intentional, and kudos to Pellington and cinematographer Eric Schmidt for achieving it.
What’s unintentional, I suspect, is how painfully dull it is. We get scene after scene after scene of drinking, snorting, smoking, and swallowing, interspersed with scenes of various pairs of the four men having generic conversations about their lives. Hey, did you know we’re not the same people we were 25 years ago? Whoa, man. THAT IS DEEP.
Then, for some reason, there is Carla Gugino. She plays a local police officer who responds to some weirdness at the beach house. She even gets her own scene, with a female friend, in which they discuss the nature of men. One suspects the movie’s more profound themes were meant to be conveyed here; instead, the effect is laughable: What is Carla Gugino doing in this movie? Why is her character such a bad cop? Wasn’t there a better way to get these ideas across?
I was briefly intrigued by the meat of the movie’s plot, which emerges about halfway through and suggests chilling potential. (I won’t spoil it for you.) Unfortunately, like everything else, this is dragged out interminably, the four actors blithering and sobbing and screaming like first-year theater students while Pellington tries to establish suspense over a conclusion that a) we know is foregone and b) we don’t care about anyway.
Once it’s over, you can look at the entire story and see how it could be the basis for a compelling film. But that film would need to be about 30 minutes long, not 125, and it would need to have believable characters in whose fates we had some interest. “I Melt with You” is a tiresome, self-serious slog that needs to melt a whole hell of a lot faster.
D (2 hrs., 5 min.; )