PLOT: Thomas Luster has got problems. Despite a successful art dealership and an ostensibly normal existence, he suspects his wife of cheating with their pretentious neighbor, he can't sleep and, most importantly, when he does sleep, he does things he can't remember and sometimes wakes up with blood on his hands. Where does Luster go at night, and what is he doing?
REVIEW: Slick-looking and ambitious, but seriously lacking in creativity or surprises, Adam Mason's LUSTER comes off like FIGHT CLUB meets AMERICAN BEAUTY, with a smidge of FALLING DOWN thrown in. Unfortunately, it doesn't contain the lurid genius of any of those flicks. Like those movies, it sets out to document a seemingly normal man's spiral into a "new him", while simultaneously tearing down the veil of normalcy in suburban life, but LUSTER isn't too concerned with the why's and how's; or more accurately, those are all too obvious. It just wants to bring us there, to the completion of the transformation, and nod in appreciation at its own cleverness. Predictable is the word I'd say most accurately describes LUSTER.
Our protagonist is Thomas Luster (Andrew Howard, the bastard sheriff in I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE), a meek art dealer who is in the midst of a strange predicament: He's beginning to receive anonymous notes advising him on his problems, which include a wife that appears attracted to their neighbor and a lack of sleep. Becoming paranoid about the letters, he enlists the help of his equally paranoid, friendly neighborhood pusher (Tommy Flanagan) to help suss out the antagonist. He starts to take sleeping pills and has security cameras installed in his house.
Soon enough, Luster's worst fear becomes apparent; he's his own worst enemy. Luster, not unlike our Narrator in FIGHT CLUB, becomes an entirely different person after he hits the sack. The security tapes eventually reveal that he's getting up to stuff in the middle of the night that he doesn't remember the next day, and some of this stuff is real bad.
LUSTER is technically well done, and quite well acted. Andrew Howard, in something of a dual role, goes all-out in a wired, entertaining performance that shouldn't be ignored. The quirky supporting cast is filled with reliable character actors all similarly giving energetic performances: Billy Burke (the dad from the TWILIGHT movies) is unrecognizable as a shady pawn shop owner; Xander Berkeley plays an intense cop on Luster's case, while Tommy Flanagan has the most fun as Luster's tweaked-out and unlikely confidant.
But the issue with LUSTER is the thrust of its narrative, which simply delivers no surprises, and even less opportunity to feel sympathy for Luster's plight. Luster goes off the rails so quickly, we hardly get to know him; he's pretty much a mental case from frame one, even though we're supposed to be watching his decent into madness. Additionally, he comes off as such a helpless sap that it's hard to be very interested in the resolution of his battle of wills between himself and his psychotic alter-ego. But neither side of Luster is very defined (his alter-ego is just a raving, pitiless maniac), and we're left with a serious feeling of "who cares" before long; we can feel neither glee nor sorrow for Luster in the outcome, because the movie he's inhabiting has been unfulfilling.
I'd like to note that while LUSTER is ultimately an unsatisfying film, Mason still gets credit for making this a very impressive-looking indie, as well as for handling a talented cast with deftness. There's no doubt that this is an interesting director, and I'm eager to see what else he's got in store.