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Dark Matter 

Opens Friday at the Lumiere.

Wednesday, Apr 30 2008
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Inspired by" the 1991 University of Iowa school shootings, Dark Matter gives a sympathetic picture of its doctoral candidate turned sociopath, Liu Xing (Ye Liu). Maladjusting to cultural amputation, the international student's letters home become increasingly Travis Bickle–like in their remove from reality. The China he has left behind is drear, but at least it's a comprehensible, straightforward wasteland — unlike the mirage of America, where we see freedom and opportunity extolled, but toadying and conformity rewarded. First-time filmmaker Shi-Zheng Chen shows little aptitude for accurately transcribing the textures of human interaction; there isn't a single credible performance here, not excluding Meryl Streep as a faculty Sinophile, doing that thing where she grinds every line through a gauntlet of tremulous inflections. More surprising, considering Chen's pedigree in opera directing, are his conspicuously inept mad scenes: Liu Xing's final snap is dramatized in a disco-strobed student lounge. So what pushes him over the edge? That he can't get laid? Indigestion from mixing wuxia with cowboy culture (the film implicitly perpetuates the think-piece insipidity that American gun violence has more to do with Zane Gray than lax handgun laws)? Who knows? Despite overtures toward evenhandedness, Dark Matter's insights go no deeper than "chickens coming home to roost" banality.

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Nick Pinkerton

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