Dir/scr: Aimee Lagos. US. 2011. 94mins

96 Minutes

Though it feels weighed down by its social commentary ambitions, American indie outing 96 Minutes holds up as a reasonably effective urban drama about a crime that dramatically effects the lives of four young people from different sides of the tracks. Writer-director Aimee Lagos and her cast should all benefit from the exposure.

Ross, who won SXSW’s Breakthrough Performance Award, gives the standout performance.

After screening at last year’s SXSW, where it won the first of its several festival prizes, the film gets a limited US opening on April 27 through Arc Entertainment/XLrator Media. Breaking through in a very crowded pre-summer marketplace will be tough and making a mark internationally will be even tougher.

Apparently inspired by the experiences of first time feature director Lagos’ college friends, the film tells the story of a haphazard car jacking. A neglected white kid (played by J Michael Trautmann) with gangsta aspirations is the instigator. His smart black friend (Evan Ross, from Jeff, Who Lives at Home) tries to keep things under control. The victims are two law students, one (Brittany Snow from Janie Jones) attempting damage limitation, the other (Christian Serratos from the Twilight series) fatally injured. The fifth character is an unappreciated Good Samaritan (UK-born David Oyelowo, from No 1 Ladies Detective Agency).

The film’s fractured timeline intercuts the 96 minutes of the car jacking with the events that led each character to the crime scene. Lagos orchestrates the footage skillfully, though the hand held look and the script’s stock portrayals tend towards cliché. 

The film’s comments on race, class, crime and punishment are usually too obvious to be effective.

Ross, who won SXSW’s Breakthrough Performance Award, gives the standout performance. The other actors push a bit too hard to ramp up the emotion 

Production companies: First Point Entertainment, Katonah Pictures, Perfect Weekend

North American distribution: Arc Entertainment/XLrator Media

International sales: Content Film, www.contentmediacorp.com

Producers: Lee Clay, Justin Moore-Lewy, Charlie Mason, Paul Gilreath

Executive producers: Mark Moran, Dan Abrams, Don Mandrik, Jessie Rusu, David Ball, Danny Roth

Cinematography: Michael Fimognari

Production designer: Denise Hudson

Editor: Aram Nigoghossian

Music: Kurt Farquhar

Website: www.96minutesthemovie.com

Main cast: Brittany Snow, Evan Ross, Christian Serratos, J Michael Trautmann, David Oyelowo