A particularly softheaded specimen of the just-say-no morality tale, Broken Vessels is a tawdry, flashy portrait of addiction whose main reference points seem to be other junkie movies. The stultifying setup leaves little room to maneuver: fresh-faced Tom (Jason London) flees his native Pennsylvania for L.A. (stylized hallucinatory sequences denote a dark back story) and, upon finding work as a paramedic, is partnered with weaselly destructive influence Jimmy (Todd Field). Presumably worn down by their high-stress, low-pay jobs, the pair relieve tensions by transforming their ambulance into some sort of debauched bachelor pad—they steal dope, get high, molest unconscious patients, and, to cover their asses, even take time out to videotape violent cops in action. Director Scott Ziehl, who collaborated on the screenplay with David Baer and John McMahon, plays some of this as mild, men-behaving-badly comedy, most of it as finger-wagging before-the-fall ugliness.
Constrictingly drawn though the two protagonists may be, the peripheral roles are even more ludicrous. There’s an angelic love-interest nurse (Roxana Zal, the movie’s coproducer), who offers Tom solace and advice (“You have to stop with the drugs”) that he shuns, and a speed freak next door (Susan Traynor, doing a sporadically compelling whacked-out upspeak thing). Also for purported comic relief, Tom is stuck at one point with a swishy roommate, who throws a womanish hissy fit when Tom pukes into his aquarium.
In both style and content, Broken Vessels indulges one drug-movie cliché after another. It plays for the most part like bad television—it’s not just the glibly episodic structure, pat psychology, or simplistic morality, but the way the
situations and dialogue strain for snappiness. Ziehl (who’s set to direct an action thriller for Miramax) works overtime to evoke Drug Hell—woozy slow motion, oblique camera angles, and blaring electronica. Music of choice to shoot up to: the Chemical Brothers, apparently.