By Rogan Marshall | November 8, 2003

One stroke of genius informing Roger Corman’s seminal LSD movie “The Trip” was the understanding that the psychedelic experience is best addressed in narrative as an indivisible whole, even, as much as possible, closely approaching “real time.” If you tell the “story” of a “trip” you should, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, “begin at the beginning, go on until you reach the end, and then stop.”
Maybe none have done so as thoroughly or directly as the Corman movie, but a number of notable films have addressed the trips induced by LSD and its organic brethren. Though a psychedelic experience is, essentially, impossible to describe, it is also jam-packed with visual effects and internal mazes of metaphor, all which lend themselves easily to cinematic “interpretation,” even if such films can never really touch the drastic and dramatic heart of the remarkable trip.
MDA, or Ecstasy, does not lend itself so easily to narrative replay. Unlike the preferred trips of an older generation, more closely describable in concrete terms, the E experience is a matter of mood and texture, a rush in the blood, an inarticulate sensual epiphany – things which hardily resist interpretation through words and moving pictures.
The commendable ambition of “Chemical Bonds” is to do such a thing. In its most graceful and engaging stretch, “CB” follows its four main characters through the ins and outs and ups and downs of a night on Ecstasy, employing their disparate perspectives to explore the corners of the experience. This climactic party sequence is often accurate, and always tries to be, and so is, as far as I know, bold, unique cinema. This alone probably qualifies “Chemical Bonds” as required viewing, at least until something better comes along, for druggies and narco cops alike.
Unfortunately, the rest of the package does not support the potential weight of the laudable party sequence. The film’s main character, Dean, is a disillusioned Hollywood yuppie (a character drawn almost whole from Corman’s “The Trip”), fed up with his lack of purpose and insight, who comes to ecstasy looking for spiritual expansion. Maybe the reason Dean doesn’t quite find what he’s looking for is that the filmmakers, shallow Hollywood yuppies themselves, draw carefully from personal experience, and never reach beyond. The decadent veil woven of cheap sex and expensive drugs which this movie seems to criticize is never lifted aside; the filmmakers never seem to see beyond or behind the frail synthetic surface. When it does occasionally deepen, the script still paddles around the metaphoric shallow end – for example, its sophomoric sub textual comparison of the lab chemistry that goes into cooking drugs, with the personal chemistry of sexual relationships. There are technical issues, too: slick stylish digital video, prettily shot and lit, is undercut by a slow pace and sparse repetitive writing, cold, wooden acting, egregiously loose editing, and a general air of affectation, which both betrays the inexperience of young filmmakers, and belies the transcendence of their subject matter.
So outside a memorable trip sequence (or should I say, a “roll” sequence?), this isn’t quite there. However, it does address a fascinating subculture from a fresh, exciting angle; and, though the director and the writer lack a broader insight, their film does make the valid point that the tall plasticene wall called Los Angeles is as impervious to mind-expanding drugs as it is to anything else that might tend to foster personal intimacy. As Dean remarks, in a well-turned closing monologue, “this is the town of broken dreams, and E is like the perfect sunset you’ve been looking for all of your life.” Those with an interest in the Los Angelene drug scene might want to take a look.

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