Jared Kurt, Jules Mann-Stewart
Goran Visnjic, Kate del Castillo, D.B. Sweeney, Portia Doubleday, Jason Mewes, Sonya Eddy, Tommy 'Tiny' Lister
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Popularized in the 1960's and 1970's, exploitation films have tried to use extreme situations to call attention to dangerous aspects of society. While the women in prison sub-genre has largely been used to appeal to straight male fantasies, the potential to speak out about abuses in women's prisons have largely been sublimated. K-11 attempts to bring light to a different, more mythologized and underrepresented depiction of homosexuals in prison.
Raymond Saxx Jr. (Goran Visnjic) is not having a good day. Awaking in a jail holding cell with a mentally unbalanced woman, Saxx knows nothing of the reason for his incarceration, but assumes it's because of his alcohol and drug bender of the following night. Believed to be a homosexual who murdered his male lover, the film sets off as a pensive story on how to assess one's guilt, but as the film progresses, it becomes more about the dangerous conditions within a segregated holding area for gay and transsexual inmates and Ray's redemption will come at the hands of clever manipulation of the system rather than any actual lack of guilt.
Visnjic hasn't had a lot of great roles since leaving E.R. at the end of its run, but here he does the most admirable job amongst the cast of creating a credible, appealing character the audience wants to cheer on for the bulk of the film. Visnjic's confused charm adds a layer of fascination that bridges over some of the more outrageous and unbelievable elements of the film.
Five other actors are given spotlights within the script with varying degrees of success. Purportedly playing a transsexual nicknamed Mousey, Kate del Castillo does an adequate job swinging between loving and vindictive. Mousey runs the K-11 ward with an iron fist, beating and abusing those who get out of line. For the most part her acerbic personality helps create a lightly combative, but safe environment. Crossing her bad side would be a mistake, but for those who stay in line, she can be like a friend or confidant.
Butterfly (Portia Doubleday) is the woman into whose cell Ray is initially thrust. Mentally unstable, Butterfly flits about the cell and the ward loving life, but fearing the wanton assault of the lumbering child molester Detroit (Tommy 'Tiny' Lister). Lister begins as an affable sort, but his aggressive behavior is revealed later in the film and his ultimate demise sets up the film's major climactic turnaround. Both work their magic in their roles, fitting in nicely with the film's loose, slightly exaggerated tone.
Jason Mewes (Jay of Jay and Silent Bob fame) plays Ben Shapiro, Mousey's lover and head of the ward narcotics ring. It's good to see Mewes away from his Kevin Smith-induced comic routine, but there's nothing of measurable interest or import to his role such that his character's resolution seems like just another forgettable transition. Enabled by the corrupt desk sergeant Johnson (D.B. Sweeney), Ben, Mousey and their crew are able to carry out a successful drug smuggling operation out of Johnson's office. Sgt. Johnson's lust for Mousey and desire to rape Ray all play into the film's attempt to highlight abuse in prisons.
Hers may not be a name you're ultimately familiar with, but director Jules Stewart has a stronger Hollywood connection than most directors working on an indie level. A longtime Hollywood script supervisor, Stewart has more recently become known as the mother of stone-faced performer Kristen Stewart. In her directorial debut, Stewart's film suggests that perhaps Stewart didn't inherit her lack of talent from her mother. Although Stewart isn't an actress herself, her years of experience in the industry have given her a strong sense of cohesion as a filmmaker.
Her script, co-written by frequent location manager Jared Kurt, makes a sizable impact in its limited scope. K-11 is neither a monumental achievement or a slight one. While it may not have the flare and flourish of a major Hollywood production, its evocative look at prison conditions, however embellished, is a nice reminder that independent cinema can still take us places we never realized we wanted to go. Horrendously mis-marketed as a dark, grimy crime drama set in a Los Angeles jail center, K-11 keeps its gritty violence to a minimum, choosing instead to focus on the more humanistic elements of the story. It is far from a perfect film, but it's an admirable achievement that may rub some viewers the wrong way based on its overly misanthropic campaign.
K-11 is a tough sell and I can't imagine it will appeal to many, but it's an interesting enough film that one can be divertingly entertained by it. I don't see a lot of potential in Stewart as a director, but it's an adequate first step and finding a script that she hasn't had a hand in might help make her efforts a bit more inventive and expose whether she has real talent or if her skills are best communicated as a script supervisor.
April 24, 2013