Local director’s debut ‘White Rabbit’ fails to produce thrills

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Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious mental affliction that can forever affect the way a person feels, thinks and reacts to the world around them. It has become a defining character flaw among many wayward protagonists in cinema, perhaps epitomized by the dark and brooding Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver.” Bay Area-local Bill Kinder presents his own dark tale driven by a character with PTSD in his directorial debut, “White Rabbit.”

The story centers on the misunderstood and misplaced Kerryann Terkel (Carla Pauli), a young and beautiful GI who has finally come home to a tepid life of solitude and a lackluster job in the Bay Area. Despite her quiet nature and the leers of local men who see her as just another pretty face, Terkel harbors a sophisticated skill set in the field of telecommunications. What is it she did with these skills during her time in Iraq, exactly? It’s never made explicitly clear, but based on her quick-trigger war flashbacks involving the mysterious code name “White Rabbit,” we know it wasn’t pretty.

This is the point in the story when writer-director Kinder begins to insert the thriller portion of the supposed drama-thriller, and to put it in military terms, everything goes “FUBAR.” Local car salesman and Tea Party-enthusiast (caricatured by the large Uncle Sam hat he wears to civic events) Mel Walter Booth (James Anthony Cotton), has some sort of under-the-table business relationship with slimy Oakland detective Ricky Ray (Eric Michael Kochmer). In order to pull off a scheme to reroute text-message campaign donations, they need someone who can hack into phone signals, and Kerryann is pulled into the operation under false pretenses.

Next to the hammy and cartoonish acting of the film’s central villains Cotton and Kochmer, the performance of the misguided Kerryann by Pauli is forced to carry the film from start to finish. This is not to say a better-crafted script and group of characters would have undoubtedly yielded better performances. Too many times, the audience is forced to sit through Kerryann’s long nighttime drives as she woefully reflects on her mysterious and seemingly dangerous past, as well as hear her complain about not being able to fit in.

Certain points of the plot feel contrived and devoid of the engaging qualities that accompany any stand-out thriller. The way Kerryann is so easily coerced into aiding the obviously drug-addled Ricky in a plan anyone could see was ill-intentioned destroys the credibility of the highly trained military operative Kerryann is meant to be. Kinder does a great job studying the character of Kerryann as an outcast out of sync with society due to the sacrifice she made for her country, but Kerryann is no Bickle, and interest soon wanes.

What may appeal the most to local audiences is Kinder’s extensive use of the Bay Area as the backdrop for this story. Scenes shot in Vallejo, Oakland and the Golden Gate Fields race track give the film an authentic flair that shows the filmmaker’s fondness for the area. These on-location moments help heighten the drama and lend believability to the characters who live there. Kinder also employs creative use of footage shot in Downtown Oakland during the Occupy Movement as a jumping off point for the political turmoil rising in the background.

While the film itself might have a hard time attracting audiences nationwide, it may find a large viewership at home in the Bay Area.

Ryan Koehn covers film. Contact him at [email protected].