Land of Plenty

Showing at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., Aug. 4–Thurs., Aug. 10. Not rated. 119 minutes.

His seminal intersection with Sam Shepard notwithstanding, Wim Wenders has become no one's idea of a frontline commentator on American social tectonics, but he keeps stepping up to bat, swinging with a head full of jukebox noise, and whiffing. Like The End of Violence and The Million Dollar Hotel, Plenty is a woozy fantasia on California dreaming, all agog at urban strife and blabby with redundant voice-over. Wenders has decided to address the cultural blowback from 9/11, by way of a semideranged Vietnam vet (Nolte manqué John Diehl) patrolling the Los Angeles streets in a low-tech surveillance van hunting for terrorists, and his Christian niece (Michelle Williams), returning to the United States from missionary work in the West Bank. Wall-to-wall song carpeting fills in the chasms of brooding and noncommunication, until the two protagonists witness the drive-by assassination of a Pakistani, sending them on a road trip into the desert—she to help deliver the man's body to family, and he to track down the borax-carting cell the dead man surely belonged to. Finger painting on every issue available (terrorism, military paranoia, poverty, evangelicalism, class), Wenders shoots on location, in digital video, and yet the huge shagginess of reality evades him on every front. Williams has a warm, hushed, slightly bruised presence, but the dialogue is so laborious—"Better to have the pains of peace than the agonies of war"—that even she ends up exhibiting the frustrated strain of a chess champ in midloss. With the film's coda set at Ground Zero, Wenders has never seemed more of a tourist. MICHAEL ATKINSON

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