MacArthur Park

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The unfortunate thing about setting your gritty urban drama in L.A.’s MacArthur Park is that you’re almost obligated to include Richard Harris’s absurdly melodramatic pop song “MacArthur Park” on the soundtrack.

Having Macy Gray remake it might help it sound more like something the film’s target audience would enjoy, but the lyrics are just as stupid. “Someone left the cake out in the rain/And I don’t think I can take it/’Cause it took so long to bake it/And I’ll never see that recipe again” causes snickering no matter whose throat it’s coming out of.

Fortunately, the song doesn’t turn up until the closing credits of “MacArthur Park,” when the film has already had whatever impact it’s going to have. And that impact is reasonably strong, particularly due to the performance of Thomas Jefferson Byrd as Cody, one of many crack-addicted homeless people who inhabit the park. Byrd is gaunt and haggard, his face showing more than its fair share of age. A so-so script and complacent directing do little to diminish his natural pathos as a man who finally has cause to try turning his life around when his estranged son shows up after five years.

The son, Terry (Brandon Adams), needs Cody’s signature to sell the house following the death of Cody’s ex-wife. Cody, though, is held captive by his fellow park denizens and by the park itself, which is home and hell to all of them.

They’re a loosely knit group, acquaintances and occasionally friends, but not above stealing from each other when required. Cody feels the most affinity for P-Air (Bad Azz), who wants to get enough money to go into a recording studio and lay down some raps. There’s also a smooth-talking lothario, E-Max (Sticky Fingaz), and the new girl in the park, Linda (Sydney Tamia Poitier), who gets involved with him. A worn-out gal named Blue (Ellen Cleghorne) tries to talk some sense into the girl, telling her the obvious things about how the park will chew her up and spit her out.

That is, essentially, the point of this relentlessly dismal cautionary tale: not to get involved in drugs and such. The good-natured Blackie (Miguel Nunez) steals from a rich white actor (played by David Faustino), who wants revenge and takes it in a cruel and unusual (and overplayed) manner, bringing everyone else in the park into the fray at some point. Ultimately, everyone gets pretty much what they deserve — which, given this motley bunch, is not too pleasant (though there is a moderately happy ending).

Director Billy Wirth forces some dramatic situations (a laughably fat-headed TV news reporter is one embarrassing example) and mistakenly believes that shaky camera work is the only thing required to make intense moments seem real. Strung-out junkies have been portrayed with more realism and depth in other films, too, though there are some genuinely engrossing scenes and characters. Someone may have left the cake out in the rain, but at least it didn’t get TOO wet.

B- (; R, non-stop harsh profanity, some sexuality, abundant drug use, some violence.)

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