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Haven earned its title when I decided to check it out immediately after sitting through The Black Dahlia, which was so disappointing it would have made John Tucker Must Die seem like an Oscar contender. Despite suffering through Bill Paxton’s cheesy “I love you so much” to his daughter, and constant plot shifts and scene cuts, I couldn’t help but feel like the debut film from writer/director Frank E. Flowers had ten times more to offer than the studio driven Dahlia, despite the bad buzz surrounding it.
The film takes place in the Camen Islands, the washing machine if you will, of laundered money everywhere thanks to its unique tax policy. The island is a haven to crooked businessmen like Carl Ridley (Bill Paxton) who arrives with the Feds on his heals dragging his feisty daughter Pippa (Agnes Bruckner) and twenty-eight pounds of one hundred dollar bills strapped to his paunch. They arrive at their exquisite condo where local punk Fritz (Victor Rasuk) pulls a Goldilocks and is discovered sleeping nude in Pippa’s bed. Pippa reacts like any teen would, she steals his weed, returns his watch and wallet and agrees to go out with him that night. That’s the sort of logic all of the characters employ in Haven tipping the realism scale of this film towards Care Bear level. When Fritz pauses to pilfer beers from Pippa’s fridge, he notices Daddy Warbucks counting his million dollars and thanks his lucky stars for waking up in the right condo for a change. Fritz drags Pippa to a hopping local party where she is tripped out by some super weed and Fritz narrowly avoids being beaten to a pulp by local gangster boss Ritchie Rich (Razaaq Adoti) by dishing on Carl’s stash.
Then something crazy happens. The movie essentially starts all over again, completely abandoning the characters we've just started to care about. Fortunately, the story about Shy (Orlando Bloom), a kindhearted fisherman who earned the nickname after witnessing his father’s death, is compelling enough to make you silence that little voice in your head wondering whether the director smoked some of that magic weed. Besides Bill Paxton versus Orlando Bloom, it’s not even fair. In what turns into Romeo and Juliet on drugs, Shy falls in love with his boss’s daughter Andrea, (Zoe Saldana) whose wannabe gangster brother Hammer (Anthony Mackie) has issues with their jungle fever. Mix in a closeted gay best friend, a sardonic British money launderer and some very bitter cops and you have the rest of the cast of Haven.
Okay okay don’t worry, we do get back to Bill Paxton’s story line with Quentin Tarantino style cuts that are interesting but ultimately disorganized. And unlike a Tarantino film, which always balances its extreme violence and corruption with humor, there is no one particularly bad ass in Havento become obsessed with and start quoting. In fact, I can’t remember a single line from the entire film except for the fact that a million dollars in hundreds weighs twenty-eight pounds because damn that’s interesting. I mean, in my entire lifetime the most I’ve ever held probably weighed about two ounces, maybe.
The film’s constant jumps come at the expense of real character development and gloss over major plot points, like what Carl actually does for a living and how exactly Andrea went from prom queen to coke fiend in 2.2 seconds. While the scandals drew me in like a spectator to a train wreck, certain dramatic moments couldn’t help but feel ridiculous, especially because everyone we meet is somehow corrupt, racist or just plain stupid. And the one character who is genuine, Carl’s love interest Sheila (Joy Bryant), seems completely implausible because she’s in love with someone played by Bill Paxton.
Still, if you have the patience to wait for the storylines to gel together, and if you're able to accept that this isn’t a completely accurate portrait of Camen society, then there's enough about Haven that's enticing to make it worth a go. For instance, there's the fabulous use of subtitles when the locals slip into dialect, which gives the film a much-needed authenticity. Or there's the film's acting, which impresses despite some melodramatic gestures. Orlando Bloom redeems himself for Elizabethtown with the jilted character Shy and his counterpart Zoe Saldana, shifting from island princess to bitter cokehead with perfect ease. Choice performances from the rest of the cast ensure that the film doesn’t completely fall apart within its shifty format, and the plot is exciting. I mean money laundering, gangster warfare, forbidden love, Bill Paxton…it’s all there, what’s not to enjoy?