By Phil Hall | January 9, 2006

Steven Soderbergh, the Oscar-winning filmmaker who has carved out a lucrative Hollywood niche directing star vehicles for the likes of Julia Roberts and George Clooney, has unwisely ignored Thomas Wolfe’s axiom and tried to go home again – in his case, to his low-budget indie film roots. The result of this mistake is “Bubble,” which is the first in a proposed series of cheapie indies to be lensed in HD in various locations around America. If “Bubble” is any indication, Soderbergh should stick with focusing his cameras on Julia Roberts’ tits and leave low-budget Americana to someone else.

“Bubble” takes place in a doll factory located in a small town within the economically depressed Ohio/West Virginia border region. Two of the employees of this factory are Martha (a short, fat, middle-aged woman who lives with her feeble old father) and Kyle (a tall, thin, young man who lives with his mother in a trailer). Martha gushes that Kyle is her best friend, but he never openly repays that compliment. Their friendship is disrupted when the factory hires Rose, who is the polar opposite of Martha: she is young, thin, pretty, smokes cigarettes, and is sexually active (she has a two-year-old daughter even though she’s not married).

Things come to a head when Rose asks Martha to babysit her kid. Martha agrees, only to learn too late this is being done so Rose can go on a date with Kyle. The next morning, Rose is found dead in her home. While logic might suggest the culprit is Rose’s ex-boyfriend (who stalked Rose during her date and made a very loud scene after Kyle went home), Martha isn’t entirely free of police suspicion.

With “Bubble,” Soderbergh makes the fatal mistake of casting the main roles with local non-professionals with no previous acting experience. In real-life, Martha is played by a KFC manager, Kyle is a computer student and Rose is a hair stylist. In reel-life, however, this stab at hillbilly neo-realism fails since none of these people have any talent. The performances are so stiff and embarrassing that “Bubble” is an HD endurance test – George A. Romero’s zombies have more life, style and soul than the leading players here. Incredibly, even worse performances come from the local police, who play themselves on-screen. These cops may not think twice about jumping into dangerous situations while busting criminals, but they are so visibly nervous in reciting their lines that one cannot help but feel pity for them.

“Bubble” was shot in HD, but the press screening I attended presented the production on 35mm. The transfer to celluloid was crummy – and what’s the point of shooting a film in HD if it is not being digitally projected?

“Bubble” also has one of the worst musical scores ever put in a movie: an annoying, fumbling guitar score which sounds more like a string tuning than a genuine score.

I am withholding the names of all guilty parties from this review except for Soderbergh, simply because he knows better and has done better. “Bubble” is among his worst films. What in the world was he thinking with this?

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