Issues Movie Review

Writer-director Van Elder starts off his film Issues with a two-part dictionary definition of his film's title, one part of which is "unresolved problems." Sadly, that phrase doesn't just define the title.

It's difficult to give praise to this sometimes daring first feature effort when Elder and crew fail too often to hide their amateur cracks. Poor sound editing, film editing, and lighting all mar any pluses. Bottom line, if you can't even edit a scene together properly, you need to go back to film school. Regardless of the quality of the dialogue and acting (which are spotty at best), this film should not have gone out to the public in this state.

Issues opens with its best scene: straight-laced Royce (Ben Watkins), wannabe playboy Damien (Laz Alonso), and even-keeled Will (Mailon Rivera) are playing dominoes, discussing relationships, the war in Iraq, and everything in between (including how one might cause the other). And then it's downhill from there.

Royce is dating a born-again Christian (Janora McDuffie) who won't give him any play. Meanwhile, Damien can't get enough. In the middle of this, Will is moving back east, and sets up his L.A. roomies with a new third: hot, aspiring actress Toni (Shawna Rodgers). Adding to this Three's Company scenario, Toni's friend Nicole (Barri Whittaker) is in an unhappy relationship with big time agent Carson (played by a very clean-and-sober-looking Todd Bridges), building tension between her and Damien, with whom she keeps crossing paths.

Will Royce ever get his groove on? Will Damien ever teach Nicole the value of a true man? Is this director for real casting Todd Bridges, and giving him a sex scene!? All these questions are eventually answered, mostly in a series of bits filled with hackneyed dialogue and largely mediocre performances.

The writing is simply a crime. Early on, Elder recycles an ancient "bitch vs. ho" joke and a Chris Rock bit about how "new pussy can't cook." At least, credit your source, man! Later on, he dredges up the "a good man is hard to find, but a hard man is good to find" crusty oldie. And the movie is intercut with "you get it/I'm not going to get it" doorbell scenes that would be lame even in a sitcom. The final insult comes toward the end of the film when Toni exclaims that she's just been cast as the lead in her first feature film: "It's called Issues, and it's by a hot new director!" I'm sure Elder thought that was cute, but it just comes off as desperate after watching this shoddy work.

The film's actors contribute the few saving graces of this "unromantic comedy," mainly Alonso, who plays Damien just wildly enough to give the biggest laughs of the movie. And Bridges turns in a good showing as the sleazebag hotshot from "the William Morris Agency." But the film's weakest link is definitely Rodgers, who turns in a totally wooden, unsexy performance as the supposedly hot and passionate Toni. She doesn't bring a single drop of passion to what should've been the sauciest role.

Issues may be Elder's feature debut, but there's no excuse for the glaring rookie mistakes seen here. When I first requested a copy for review, Elder warned me that this "film is a 'romantic comedy' from a male's perspective," most likely out of concern that - as a woman - I'd judge this film harshly for its blunt take on relationships. Ironically, the subject matter is the best part of Issues; it's the substandard, unprofessional filmmaking, writing, and acting that are keeping it down.


Issues Rating

" Unbearable "

Rating: NR, 2005


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