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TRANS(director/writer: Julian Goldberger; screenwriter: Michael A. Robinson; cinematographer: Jesse Rosen; editor: Affonso Goncalves; cast: Ryan Daugherty (Ryan Kazinski), Jon Daugherty (Ryan’s Younger Brother), Justin Lakes (Justin), Edge (Bus station Manager); Runtime: 80; A Cowboy Booking release; 1998)
“A bleak look at a troubled teenager’s life.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A bleak look at a troubled teenager’s life when he escapes from the Southwest Florida Juvenile Detention Center. This fictionalized film looks as if it could be a documentary, shot in the cinema verite style. Its main focus is on Ryan Kazinski (Ryan Daugherty), a troubled 16-year-old going nowhere fast, who thinks of himself as an alien from another planet.

With only one month left to serve his reform school sentence, after being in solitary confinement, he is on a highway chain gang where a fight breaks out and he impulsively runs away with two others while the guards are distracted.

After the trio are joyfully horseplaying through the swamps to escape, they stop at a rural rest stop and the other two steal a car and leave him on his own in southwest Florida. We know the bare minimum about him: he never mentions a father, his mother might or might not live in Denver, and he lives with his younger brother in Ft. Myers. He injured his brother in a swimming pool accident when they were youngsters, but the brothers have grown close since then.

This kid’s a downer, with a low attention span and a naive recognition of how messed up he is. He’s clueless about his goals or of who he is. He seems to be unaware of what he is doing, and he doesn’t have anyone to talk to who might help. After he is abandoned by his fellow escapees at the rural general store, among the good ol’ white boys, they recognize the predicament he’s in and ask his plans. He mentions: “To go to Colorado. Just live in the snow.”

First-time director Julian Goldberger got into the kid’s head and presented a haunting portrayal of what it is like to be lost and frightened in a world that is too complex for this fast-food eating kid, who looks like a psycho with his crew-cut but is as soft as a Twinkie. What the film does best besides have their unlikely antihero be the appealing voice of the film, is catch the desolate mood of the locale. What it forgets to do, is tell a good story.

Ryan’s quest for freedom takes him home, as he travels in a night world consisting of the small towns in the Everglades that are rife with speeding cars, flickering street lights, laundrymats, bus depots, convenience stores, fast-food shops, and groups of unsupervised teenagers out past their curfew; some are looking for fights, with danger always lurking, as one hears the persistent sound of the police sirens. The place looks like a nightmare created by a madman, as this locality is bereft of anything but a pop culture mentality and desperate youngsters on the prowl.

The bleakness of the film is manifested in how Ryan can’t and won’t change: the kid shows no signs of taking responsibility for his own life and there is no family support. That the prison system is not the answer for kids like this, is also obvious. Why he was in prison is not given, but there’s hints that he was picked up as a sniffer of chemicals (huffer) or some other minor offense. This kid is certainly not a hardened criminal, which is the shame of it all. But, there seems to be no answers from society or from this film about what to do with lost souls like him. At least, the film makes it clear that its position is that incarceration is not the answer, which certainly goes against the current thinking in America.

Despite the film’s good look and the way it uses a novel approach in its film language to echo what Ryan is thinking, everything seems surface deep. It could have used something else to compensate for the mindlessness of Ryan to go along with his painful tale of hopelessness and not rely totally on the film’s evocative atmosphere (which wears thin after a while) to tell its story.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”