Joss Whedon's popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer series has been compared to both shows, and star Sarah Michelle Gellar, after a series of filmic flops, finally decided to hitch her wagon to high-concept ghost stories like Scooby-Doo and The Grudge. Amber Benson, on the other hand, best-known as Willow's lesbian lover, Tara, on Buffy, may have quite the uphill battle with Chance, a low-budget project that's been kicking around the festival circuit for two and a half years now.
Benson funded the entire thing herself, and she looks to have made it in and around her apartment. She wrote, directed, produced, and stars in it; she also narrates and talks directly to the camera a lot. Obsessive fans, you needn't know anything more.
Aside from the excessive narration/exposition, the movie starts off in eye-catching fashion, with fellow Buffy heartthrob James Marsters arriving home to a dimly lit apartment and finding a dead girl on the bed. Just as we're hooked, the opening credits begin, and a dorky singer-songwriter shows up strumming a guitar and singing a number called "Burn Me Down," featuring lyrics by Whedon. It stops the narrative momentum dead in its tracks and does likewise at several other points in the movie, when the guy shows up again to sing about apple martinis and sex. The songs feel like a time-killing device, and the movie's only 80 minutes long even with them.
Benson's character is Chance, a painter who somehow never gets a single splash of paint on her clothes or anywhere else. She's somewhat bisexual (gotta keep the fans of her TV lesbianism hooked) and totally promiscuous, breaking hearts as she engages in plenty of casual sex. Marsters plays Simon (a 180 from his British bad-boy Spike persona), who sleeps on Chance's couch and is hopeless in matters of love -- not to mention suffering from a severe armpit-odor problem. Hearing him talk with an American accent is akin to hearing James Doohan do the same -- it feels unnatural, even though that's the way he talks in real life.
Chance and Simon play head games with each other, but they also become involved in the lives of Chance's parents, who are on the verge of divorce. Meanwhile, there's that whole dead-body thing hanging over the proceedings, and the plot gets back to it eventually, tying things up in way too convenient a fashion.
As an actress, Benson is naturally good at two moods -- horny and pissed off. In every other vein, she comes off as an overactor or maybe as someone who just needs to be directed by someone other than herself. Marsters delivers a solid turn, which is no surprise; he's always seemed to be the most genuine and least self-consciously "hip" of the "Buffyverse" characters. (Indeed, the show is too self-congratulatory for its own good, while the movie version, featuring Kristy Swanson, Rutger Hauer, and Pee-wee Herman, hit the right balance of silliness and supernatural. Take that particular bias for what it's worth.)
Chance plays like a John Cassavetes flick, using real-life friends and locations to create truth-based drama. But there are too many patently phony elements, and talking directly to the camera is almost always a bad idea unless you're John Cusack. Cult indie filmmaker Kevin Ford, for one, uses similar circumstances -- semifamous friends, personal residences as locations, and real-life connections turned to fiction -- to create dramas that feel spontaneous and alive, but Benson's impulses appear to be sabotaging every near-accidental brush with truth.
According to the flick's website, however, she's working on another film, which indicates that she's serious about directing. If she can decide whether she's willing to get grittier or go for more commercial fare rather than this awkward mix, she may have potential. Until then, it's only recommended that hardcore devotees take this Chance.