(director/writer/producer: George Hickenlooper; screenwriter: John Enbom; cinematographer: Richard Crudo; editors: Yaffa Lerea/Jim Makiej; music: Bill Boll; cast: Rory Cochrane (John), Sean Astin (Andrew), Kyra Sedgwick (Bevan), Ron Livingston (Chad), Christian J. Meoli (Leonard), Sara Melson (Suzie), James LeGros (Mike, Jr.), J.T. Walsh (Mike Sr); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Donald Zuckerman/Tobin Heminway; Cabin Fever Entertainment and Cinepix Film Properties; 1995)
Sean Astin’s superbly moving performance nearly saves this flick.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title of the film should have been The Searchers. This is not a film about low lifes, but about some confused but overly educated young men who refuse to believe they are at a dead-end. They are unable to deal with how pointless their lives are and how they are wasting away in an empty environment. Some might be taken aback by the glumness of the laid-back performance of the protagonist wannabe writer. He is named John and is not safely played by Rory Cochrane. That this indie film is not always on target, should not deter you from completely ignoring it.

George Hickenlooper’s (“Hearts of Darkness: A Film Maker’s Apocalypse”) low budget urban drama and black comedy, “The Low Life,” finds a group of recent Yale graduates living a poverty-stricken day-to-day existence in Los Angeles as slackers and fighting off despair through a group consciousness attitude of disdainful haughtiness. The screenplay by Hickenlooper and John Enbom lacks the satiric edge it needed to take it beyond the easy targets it sets up for the kill.

After finishing his studies at Yale, John heads to Hollywood with aspirations of becoming a successful author. However, things fail to materialize as planned. Along with his buddies from college, Chad (Ron Livingston) and Leonard (Christian Meoli), he spends his days working at a dull job for a credit card company and at night hanging around bars, goofing on the uncultured patrons, planning scams and playing TV trivia games. There’s also a female member of their crew, Suzie (Sara Melson), who slums as a waitress in a performance-art bar.

When John changes jobs and roommates, he’s forced to move into the squalid apartment with nerdy country bumpkin Andy (Sean Astin). John soon goes to work as an errand boy for a ruthless slumlord (James LeGros). The overly friendly Andy, anxious to make friends with his roommate’s crew, buys them drinks but is behind his back made the target of mockery, as John and his chums can’t bear the newcomer’s politeness and social graciousness.

Meanwhile, John can’t make headway with attractive apartment resident, the aspiring actress Bevan (Kyra Sedgwick), a Southern floozy who dates married men and wants to make no serious commitment. But the dude needed this relationship, no matter how hopeless it seemed, in order to save himself from his gradual mental breakdown.

Hickenlooper uses the film to make some generalized observations of Ivy League graduates (he’s a Yale grad). These spoiled young adults are labeled as typical of their generation, both in having an overblown sense of their own worth and in their inability to escape from a trashy pop culture that they scorn and love at the same time. I thought that point and other pithy observations made weren’t that startling to override how the story was so bleak and unfulfilling. Yet Sean Astin’s superbly moving performance nearly saves this flick, as the film’s focus becomes on how John observes Andy and thereby views himself.

The film’s best line in said by Cochrane: “What kind of person would you be if you spent $857 at Basket World?”