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Manic Reviews

THE BREAKFAST CLUB on meds. After brutally assaulting a high-school classmate with a baseball bat, Lyle Jenson (3rd Rock From the Sun's Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is remanded to the care of the Northwood psychiatric facility, where troubled teens and assorted deranged adults are guided along the road to wellville by the likes of tireless staff psychologist David Monroe (Don Cheadle). At his first group session, Lyle is introduced to his peers, who bear a predictable gamut of psychological bruises. Sara (Sara Rivas), who hides her vulnerability behind a mask of black lipstick and heavy eye make-up, hates her mother and sports a trellis of tell-tale scars up and down her arms. White hip-hop poseur Mike (Elden Henson), has a trigger-temper and a chip on his shoulder, and takes an instant dislike to Lyle. Quiet, 12-year-old Native American Kenny (Cody Lightning) is trapped in a chain of sexual molestation. While trying to get to the root of his own uncontrollable rage through a combination of pills and group therapy (hint: it has something to do with physical abuse at the hands of a now-absent father), Lyle bonds with manic-depressive rich-kid Chad (Michael Bacall, who also cowrote the screenplay) and flirts with pretty-but-damaged Tracy (Zooey Deschanel), who, like every one else in the movie, is defined strictly by her laundry list of trauma: low self-esteem, an emotionally abusive mother, a sexual assault and chronic night terrors. The film doesn't really go anywhere, other than outside for endless games of basketball, and the group-therapy environment allows for far too many young-actor monologues. First-time writer/director Jordan Melamed tries to cook up a CUCKOO'S NEST-type friction between the staff, who are only interested in keeping the residents medicated and out of trouble, and the kids themselves, who just want to be free to smoke pot and turn the day room into a mosh pit. But it's only half-heartedly developed, even though the film's violent climax depends upon the conflict. A natural stylist, Melamed uses the soundtrack's doped-up beats, glaring natural light and jittery, hand-held camerawork to put you inside his characters' troubled minds, but that's an awfully dreary place to be.