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Indie Flix

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 23, 2001


No love lost

The Profit (Not rated, probably R) (128 min.) -- The long, contentious history of the Church of Scientology will make a fascinating documentary someday. Until then, we have Peter D. Alexander's stilted movie he inscrutably claims isn't based on the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

But anyone with the most casual knowledge of the church's history will find the parallels obvious.

Alexander's film centers on fictional con artist L. Conrad Powers (Eric Rath), leader of the Church of Scientific Spiritualism with beliefs steeped in Powers' science fiction novels. Members wearing military-style uniforms do Powers' bidding, using "Mind Meters" to read personalities and monitor behavior. The IRS and FBI hound him, a Tom Cruise-style celebrity supports him and Powers becomes a reclusive demagogue.

Alexander was a Scientologist for 20 years until he left the church, obviously carrying some hard feelings with him. His odd disclaimer notwithstanding, The Profit is Alexander's rant against Hubbard's practices that might be more effective if not couched in cliches unbecoming such fertile material. Cultists may be capable of the acts The Profit describes, but this story comes across as farfetched rather than convincing.

Part of the fault lies in Rath's over-the-top performance, making Powers a medicine show barker who would be twirling a mustache if he had one. Alexander frames him as someone not to be taken seriously with winking musical choices and hokey hypnotism explaining how Powers gets inside unsuspecting minds. Everyone succumbs, but the dynamics behind such conversions aren't fully explored. Alexander is mad as hell and he's not going to tell us any more.

The Profit was filmed around Tampa Bay last year in pulpish colors by Mark Woods with admirable costumes and designs for Citizen Kane-style flashbacks to a half-century ago. Rath's supporting cast performs with that extra bit of eagerness that flattens characters by exposing the acting tricks behind them.

Alexander's movie preaches to the choir of Scientology critics. The rest of us who haven't made up our minds get some National Enquirer-style entertainment (sexual dysfunction! devil worship!) and not much to consider after the show.

Opens Friday at Clearwater Cinema Cafe at the corner of U.S. 19 and Sunset Point Road in Clearwater. C

Kitano knocks 'em dead

Brother (R) (113 min.) -- Takeshi Kitano is a hard-boiled action director and Beat Takeshi is his favorite triggerman-actor. That's convenient, since they're both the same person using two names to separate his rapidly evolving reputation. Brother is his latest film and first with an American co-star, Omar Epps, and locales in a deliberate bid for U.S. attention.

Takeshi plays Yamamoto, a Yakuza gunman pushed out of the loop all the way to L.A. Epps plays a drug dealer teaming with him against mobsters horning in on their business.

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert wrote: "Brother is a typical Kitano film in many ways, but not one of his best ones. Too many of the killing scenes have a casual, perfunctory tone: lots of gunfire, a row of enemies lies dead, the plot moves on. Finally, so many people are dead that the movie looks more like a shooting gallery or a video game than a stylized crime parable."

Opens Friday at Channelside Cinemas in Tampa.

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