Vegas: Based on a True Story


vegas_true_storyIf your children enjoy watching forklifts smashing up cars, go purchase Metal Monsters. And if they adore trucks, try out Dirt Monsters.

But if your offspring really has a fetish for hole-digging, look no further than Vegas: Based on a True Story. For the final hour or so of this venture, your loved ones will be able to giggle and coo and applaud as a Vegas couple with gambling, smoking, and drinking problems shovel up their backyard in search of a suitcase containing a million dollars.

Yes, this haphazard twosome--plus their bewildered preteen son -- use picks, shovels, dump trucks, and bulldozers to tear apart their lawn, flowerbeds, greenhouse, and home in search of a rumored treasure supposedly buried on their land by robbers decades before.

People and their holes can be a fascinating topic. Take, for instance, Hiroshi Teshigahara's brilliant 1964 adaptation of Kobo Abe's Woman in the Dunes.

However, Amir Naderi, an apparently acclaimed director who first churned out movies in his native Iran, seems a little lost in the suburbs of Las Vegas, Nevada, where the action takes place.

His blue-collar characters -- Eddie Parker (Mark Greenfield), his wife Tracy (Nancy La Scala), and their son Mitch (Zach Thomas) -- are struggling to make ends meet, but they feel cut off from a cultural context huger than their limited neuroses. Yes, this family's obsessive quarrying seems as empty as the holes they dig. There's no fusion of political and artistic commitment here. No artistic stylings except for a rather abrupt ending.

Possibly, Naderi is arguing that the American dream is fragile, and that when you do achieve a bit of success, you have to work thrice as hard to keep what you've got. But this relentless dirt scooping quickly loses its novelty.

But not for all. The film is featured at the current Tribeca Film Festival and was nominated for a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. It's impossible to state whether seeing Vegas with subtitles might make a world of difference, but I'll place a bet -- double or nothing -- that it does. - Brandon Judell brandon.jpgMr. Judell, who's currently teaching "Contemporary Israeli/Palestinian Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.