Thin plot, dialogue sink indie flic ‘Asthma’

It must be possible to make a movie in which the hero is a trust-fund baby/heroin addict/car thief and still maintain some rooting interest in the story’s outcome. “Asthma” is not that movie.

Maybe that’s because Gus (Benedict Samuel) is an insufferable poser, but most likely it’s because writer-director Jake Hoffman hasn’t provided enough narrative juice to justify hanging around this guy for 90 minutes.

Gus is conflicted, but he’s cool — we know this because of the way he stylishly flicks his cigarette butts on the ground. (Someday I’d like to see a hip indie movie about the guy who has to clean that up.) As the movie opens, Gus is attempting suicide by hanging.

He fails, but this kicks off a stint of roving — Gus steals a car, visits his drug dealer, and picks up a Goth-eyed young woman he met at a club once.

This is Ruby (Krysten Ritter), who could use a ride to Connecticut. She’s a tattoo artist, because how could she not be?

Ruby is going to the home of a minor celebrity (funny Dov Tiefenbach) with whom she might be involved. Various hangers-on, including an amusingly self-righteous guru (Goran Visnjic), are spending a weekend at the place. This setting at least provides the movie a little satirical material to work with.

It’s hard to get behind Samuel and Ritter (the star of the Marvel TV series “Jessica Jones”) and their hesitant romance, but this has more to do with the flimsy dialogue than the actors. Hoffman, the son of Dustin, hasn’t given them enough original substance to play with.

Appearing in cameos are Rosanna Arquette, as Gus’s mother, and Nick Nolte, as the voice of a wolf that visits Gus in low moments. Which is one of the movie’s better ideas.

Watching the way Gus bounced back after his suicide attempt (and they way he is racked by coughing fits after), I became convinced that Hoffman was working a modern variation on the classic Ambrose Bierce short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.”

Which also begins with a hanging, but if you haven’t read it (or seen the “Twilight Zone” episode made from it), I won’t spoil it for you. It turns out — non-spoiler spoiler alert — ”Asthma” isn’t that after all. What it is, is a missed chance with a few amusing moments.

“Asthma” (1 star)

A heroin addict/car thief (Benedict Samuel) picks up an acquaintance (Krysten Ritter) on the way to a Connecticut weekend. Jake Hoffman’s flimsy indie doesn’t give the players enough to work with, despite some amusing moments.

Rating: Not rated; probably R for language

Showing: Sundance Cinemas Seattle

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