Shawn Christensen, writer-director of “Before I Disappear,” also stars in this dreary New York City-set redemption drama. “Before I Disappear” is based on Christensen’s short film, “Curfew,” which won an Oscar last year for best short film. “Curfew’s” expansion into the feature-length “Before I Disappear,” however, comes up short.
Christensen plays Richie, a vaguely angry, sad young man. Early in the film, Richie attempts suicide in the bathtub of his miserable apartment.
But then the phone rings. Richie answers. The estranged sister he hasn’t seen for years is on the other end. Out of the blue, she needs her no-account, heroin addict brother’s help.
Suicide interrupted. Richie’s nocturnal marathon of surprises, mishaps, frustration and danger begins.
Martin Scorsese directed a crazy, funny 1985 film set in Manhattan called “After Hours.” Maybe “Before I Disappear” is the downbeat, non-entertaining version of that.
When Christensen’s Richie isn’t taking pills and or slashing his wrist, he continuously starts a letter to his girlfriend, Vista. With his sister, Maggie, in a jam, his notes to Vista and his late-night job cleaning restrooms in a rock club are put on hold. The mysteriously inconvenienced Maggie wants Richie to pick up her daughter, Sophia, at school and escort the child home.
Co-starring with Christensen, Fatima Ptacek is Sophia, a girl who instantly sizes Richie up as a loser and treats him accordingly. This girl is cold, controlling. A high-achieving little bully. Yet Richie, mess that he is, tries to be nice.
“I don’t know if you remember me, but my name is Richard,” he tells his niece when they meet at her school. “I am … your uncle.”
“I don’t care,” the haughty child replies. Later, at her apartment building, she adds: “You don’t have to go beyond this point. Goodbye.”
It’s not really goodbye. Due to circumstances beyond even Sophia’s control, she and her uncle spend most of the night, and the movie, together. He’s apparently Sophia’s mother’s last resort.
Predictably, as the niece and uncle spend time in a bowling alley, a rock club, a seedy apartment building and the streets of New York, Sophia’s disapproving attitude about her floundering uncle evolves.
Ptacek, who’s now 14, has many TV credits, including the voice of Dora in “Dora the Explorer.” As Sophia in “Before I Disappear,” she’s a pro who injects some rare spark into the movie. But she can’t overcome the hurdles the movie’s characters are required to make. Her contemptuous view of Richie, for instance, shifts far too easily. And Richie’s eruption of family inspired loyalty to Sophia, for multiple reasons, isn’t credible.
Like principals Ptacek and Christensen, supporting cast members in the film’s small ensemble are not well served by Christensen’s stretched, padded, humdrum script. Emmy Rossum, as Sophia’s mother, Maggie, and Ron Perlman and Paul Wesley as Richie’s menacing bosses (at the club and bowling alley respectively) are stuck in spare character sketches.
All of “Before I Disappear” suffers from a bland, disinterested tone. In the end, few will care when all of these people disappear.