I Am Not Sam

Autistic License

Continuing the post-Reagan-era tendency of American movies to patronize and romanticize the mentally impaired, David S. Goyer's ZigZag(Silver Nitrate, opens June 21) is an ambitiously naturalistic, albeit half-baked, drama about an abused, inner-city autistic teen (Sam Jones III) who has, like all film autistics, a magical knack for numbers. Kid-pulp screenwriter Goyer (Dark City, BladeI and II) manages some mature textures but his movie never surmounts its manipulative ideas. At least the plot (from the novel by Landon J. Napoleon) doesn't play like a charity pamphlet: The eponymous dishwasher, in an effort to pay the rent his crack-dealer dad (Wesley Snipes) demands, steals nine Gs from his boss; after Dad grabs it all for himself, ZigZag and his volunteer Big Brother (John Leguizamo) try to retrieve it, with domino-like non-success.

Leguizamo, in his first major role as an ordinary person in years, is captivating (an easily botched scene in which he explains sex to ZigZag hits a bull's-eye), and Jones, in his first film, never overdoes the handicap, limiting it to a speech impediment and a subtle head rock. Unfortunately, Goyer has his other actors (particularly hick bigot Oliver Platt) gnaw their dialogue like dogs on a roast bone. Eventually, the story stalls as cancer catches up with Leguizamo's quick-talking mensch. First-person novels are notoriously uncooperative as sources for dramatic movies (the precious narration here sounds conspicuously un-autistic), and unlike fellow hack scripter-turned-indie startup Henry Bean, Goyer has no baggage of his own to unpack. Without the book's motivating perspective, Goyer's moral universe has the simplicity of a superhero comic.

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