By Merle Bertrand | November 9, 2004

One of the more fascinating aspects of watching the film, “AI: Artificial Intelligence,” is trying to identify those parts of the film that reflect director Steven Spielberg’s influences, as opposed to those elements one could attribute to the late Stanley Kubrick. Exquisite mess that it is, “AI” serves as an apt example of all that can happen, good and bad, when two such strong personalities with their own distinctive styles collaborate on a single project.

While up and coming indie auteurs Kirk Harris and Mark David obviously aren’t quite the household names that Spielberg and Kubrick are, it’s interesting to observe the same sort of stylistic tussle occurring in “Intoxicating,” their first collaboration together.

As a young but talented heart surgeon, Dorian Shanley (Harris) literally holds his patients’ lives in his hands. Instead of basking in the glory of his achievements and the praise of his supervisor, Dr. Preminger (Joanne Baron), however, Dorian lives the self-destructive lifestyle of a rock star. Haunted by watching the heartbreaking deterioration of his father, William (John Savage) as a result of pugilistic dementia following a long boxing career, Dorian fills his lonely evenings with booze, babes, and all the drugs his substantial income can provide. He even goes so far as to raid his hospital’s pharmaceutical supplies, trading the illicit contraband to his slimy dealer pal, Teddy (Eric Roberts), for cocaine.

The one woman who offers Dorian a lifesaver is Megan (Laurie Baranyay), who pines for him in vain. He shows his gratitude to her by seducing her best friend, Anna (Camilla Overbye Roos) instead, then dragging Anna with him as he continues his relentlessly downward spiral towards self-destruction, until the life he holds in his violently trembling hands is his own.

While Harris’ script is loosely based on the story of director David’s cousin, those who recognize the multi-talented writer-director-producer-actor from such indie favorites as “Hard Luck,” “My Sweet Killer,” and “loser” will agree that Dorian Shanley is exactly the sort of haunted and driven character Harris was seemingly born to play. Harris, whose piercing eyes could chill a volcano, somehow still projects just enough vulnerability as to elicit an unlikely smidgen of sympathy for an unsavory character one would otherwise quickly dismiss.

For his part, David, another multi-hyphenate who also co-composed the soundtrack and served as the film’s DP, brings a richly vibrant and distinctive visual style to “Intoxicating.” There’s scarcely a throwaway shot here, as David turns each frame into a tapestry of composition, just as he did with his debut outing, the ultra-heavy incest drama, “Sweet Thing.”

There honestly isn’t enough story here to justify this film’s lengthy running time — indeed, the second act is mostly an exercise in running-in-place — but chewing-up-the-screen supporting performances by Roberts, Savage and Roos combine with the rumbling Hip Hop soundtrack to pull the viewer through the slower sections.

While “Intoxicating” is far from a perfect film, it is nonetheless a highly effective — and affecting — clash of two fiercely independent talents, Kirk Harris and Mark David. While these two obviously don’t share the name recognition of Spielberg and Kubrick, with more juxtaposed collaborations like the intoxicating “Intoxicating,” they’ll be carving out their own recognizable niche in no time.

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