‘Tis the season to be jolly, so what better way to kick-off the festivities than to discuss 3 Needles, a movie about the AIDS epidemic sweeping the planet. It’s not pleasant for anyone to think about, but it’s an important problem that, over the decades, continues to rear its ugly head. While I support films that educate and enlighten, 3 Needles does neither of these things; in fact, it is so manipulative and sloppy that it left me more angry at writer-director Thom Fitzgerald than the tragic topic being mishandled onscreen. Surely, a better movie could be released on Dec. 1 to commemorate World AIDS day.
The main problem with 3 Needles is that it presents situations that aren’t accessible to the people it needs to address. The story is divided into three sections—on three different continents—so let’s start with the one in North America: Denys (X-Men’s Shawn Ashmore) is a porn star living in Montreal, whose blood is infected with “the virus” (which the film never mentions by name). To pass the mandatory monthly blood test, he steals samples from his ailing father, and proceeds to sleep with other actors without protection. When his mom (Stockard Channing) finds out about his illness—and what he does for a living, which apparently she never noticed—she concocts a plan to catch AIDS herself, in hopes of landing a hefty insurance settlement that will solve their poverty problem.
If you believe in Darwin’s theories, then these are two people that the world would be better off without—the young guy who knowingly spreads the virus, and the mom that laps up his blood to try and contract it. This is the most effective scenario that Fitzgerald could come up with? Let’s try again: In the South Africa story, Clara (Chloe Sevigny) is the latest recruit among three nuns (Sandra Oh and Olympia Dukakis—who also graces the film with a sporadic, irritating narration) trying to convert sick Africans before they die. Since some of the infected natives believe they can cure their own illness by sleeping with virgins…well, you can guess what happens.
Lastly, in the China story, Jin Ping (Lucy Liu) sets up a mobile blood collection service in a poor community where they offer $5 per blood donation. Many of the civilians jump at the chance for extra cash to increase their harvest, and one man (Tanabadee Chokpikultong), deemed too sick to sell his own blood, instead pulls up his underage daughter’s sleeve. That probably wasn’t the best idea, since his neighbors begins to drop like flies soon afterwards.
3 Needles has good intentions, but the execution is all over the place. There are so many characters that literally none of them develop personalities or credible relationships with one another. (In the North American story, the mother is so devoted to her son that they barely ever speak and she’s oblivious about his life—how can we truly feel connected to that?).
There is an air of artifice about the film; it seems to rely on success by dealing with important subject matter, without ever actually being important. The movie-of-the-week feel, combined with the hokey, manipulative narration (“When you pray, it drifts up to Heaven and it floats there forever), keeps 3 Needles from ever taking flight. And that’s a shame because, buried somewhere, it really does have a relevant message to deliver.