I don’t know how it happened. Somewhere around the release of Gus Van Sant’s Milk, James Franco woke up one morning and transformed into a decent actor. It was a blessing for regular cinephiles and casual Francophiles alike.
Whilst still “studying” at UCLA, he devised Good Time Max. As lead actor, director and co-writer, this jejune genius/druggie drama is so excruciating that Franco’s formative years are best left forgotten.
Franco is the titular Max, a mathematics genius with a penchant for cocaine. After a double-cross with a suburban drug dealer, he hitches a ride with his priggish, doctorate brother Adam (Matt Bell) on his way to a hospital residency in LA. A speedy cold turkey transition later and Max manages to slip into a lovely suit and land himself a job in algorithm design (he is a genius, after all). But soon after the addictive bug kicks in and Max nose-dives straight into crystal meth with his co-workers, vicariously destroying the brotherly love in the process.
Struggling with the addiction (but never therapy – geniuses don’t need it), Franco fails to invoke the audience into feeling any empathy for Max. An isolated, pompous and wholly unlikeable character–both on and off the smack–who Franco portrays with a cocky gurn and nervous dramatic skills. Instead of character development, the ‘flawed genius’ thread is trite and domineering. The word is used 9 times throughout the film, most of which come from the arrogant horses’ mouth.
To be fair, Franco isn’t all to blame. Making the boy genius seem less of an irritable screen presence is when he is joined on screen by just about anyone else. I am sure that there most be some talent lurking amongst the ranks of this predominantly amateur cast, but Franco’s cliché-fuelled script (co-written by Merriwether Williams, who earns her buck as story editor of Spongebob Squarepants [alarm bells]) and lack of hard-earned directorial authority mean that Good Time Max is just plain bad.
Still, thank fuck for Gus van Sant, ey?