Movie review of “Asthma”: This story about a charming kook (Benedict Samuel) with bronchial asthma starts out strong, but then loses its spark and momentum. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
For a short while, writer-director Jake Hoffman’s “Asthma” has a nifty irony.
The film’s slacker-junkie hero Gus (Benedict Samuel), challenged by debilitating bouts with bronchial asthma that leave him gasping for air, is just enough of a charming kook that “Asthma” is imbued with a 1960’s-like, anti-establishment free-spiritedness.
In other words, “Asthma” breathes with the rich oxygen of possibility in a way that Gus can’t.
Movie Review ★★
‘Asthma,’ with Benedict Samuel, Krysten Ritter, Rosanna Arquette, Nick Nolte, Goran Visnjic. Written and directed by Jake Hoffman. 90 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Sundance Cinemas (21+).
It feels good, too, as a viewer, to absorb Hoffman’s heady vibe. After Gus fails a suicide attempt (which literally involves whiting himself out with paint), he steals a Rolls-Royce, picks up the beautiful Ruby (“Jessica Jones’ ” Krysten Ritter, in an Audrey Hepburn-like role) and heads out of Manhattan for woodsy Connecticut.
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The brief road trip that follows has the infectious joy of rejecting boring old real-world normalcy, set to a jangling pop soundtrack. When there’s a mishap with the car that leaves Gus and Ruby walking for miles, that same sense of discovery and openness endures, embracing both the plot and the characters’ tricky but emerging relationship.
But then Hoffman (son of Dustin Hoffman, and an actor who played the shoe salesman in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street”) changes course. Once the couple arrives at a cultlike community of hipsters, the story becomes about Ruby trying to keep up with Gus while his demons chase him. “Asthma” turns flat, and Gus becomes a lot less sympathetic.
A cast that includes Rosanna Arquette in a brief scene, Nick Nolte voicing a drug-induced werewolf apparition and a barely recognizable Goran Visnjic as a guru adds interest and fun. Hoffman’s bleached visuals cannily suggest Gus’ worn-out spirit.
But “Asthma” loses its spark and momentum long before the halfway point — a genuine disappointment.