Rookie writer-director Scott Silver blows a promising premise. It's Christmas Eve, and John (David Arquette) -- a young but experienced Los Angeles street hustler -- is trying to teach the ropes to innocent Donner (Lukas Haas). John has recently stolen money from a drug dealer, and Donner's naive attempts to help him out result in tragedy. The first part of this film is convincingly gritty and wry; Silver effectively captures the relentlessly ugly, smog-bound atmosphere that envelopes Los Angeles. But as John's problems mount up, the story takes a wrong turn into TV movie of the week-dom. Silver compounds the problem with heavy-handed music -- a capella religious choruses, Silent Night at a crucial juncture -- and his use of a wordless, homeless black man (Keith David), who appears intermittently like an angel of mercy. Arquette is effective in a young Dennis Hopper sort of way -- appealing one minute, repulsively mannered the next -- but Haas' shy fawn in the urban jungle characterization doesn't wear well. Several familiar faces crop up in small roles, including Nina Siemaszko, John C. McGinley and Elliott Gould, who's alarmingly effective as a particularly needy client. The fact that multiple characters are named "John" is a joke that wears thin well before the movie comes to an end.