Debbie Doebereiner as Martha
Dustin James Ashley as Kyle
Misty Dawn Wilkins as Rose
Kyle Smith as Jake
Omar Cowan as Martha’s Dad
Laurie Lee as Kyle’s Mother
David Hubbard as Pastor
Decker Moody as Detective Don

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

In an attempt to recreate real life, Soderbergh creates a ludicrous crime drama featuring non-actors that may as well have been redubbed “Law and Order: Boring as Sh*t.”

Martha and Kyle (Debbie Doebereiner, Dustin Ahsley) work together at a doll factory in Belpre, Ohio, but their friendship is disrupted when a pretty single mother named Rose (Misty Wilkins) starts working there and starts to show interest in Kyle, leaving Martha feeling left out. When Rose is found dead, their friendship is shaken up even more, as a local detective (Decker Moody) investigates.

When you’re a director whose made many high profile mainstream and indie movies, been nominated for two Oscars in the same year, and been elevated to the status of one of the country’s most respected and prolific filmmakers, it must be hard to decide what to do next. For Steven Soderbergh, it means changing gears and doing something different, and “Bubble” is the first in a series of six “experiments” filmed all around the country using non-actors, which will be released simultaneously in a number of formats.

The story takes place in a rural area of southern Ohio, setting up the dynamics between three coworkers: Martha and Kyle are your typical townies, doing tedious and repetitive labor at the local doll factory, and close friends despite their obvious age difference. When Rose, a single mother, starts working at the factory, Kyle gravitates to her, and though Martha feels threatened, she tries to be friendly to the new girl. When Kyle and Rose go out on a date, they leave a jealous and dejected Martha to take care of Rose’s child, but the next day, Rose is found dead after a domestic dispute with her ex-boyfriend, beginning an investigation by a local detective.

Soderbergh’s latest venture takes him into Gus Van Sant territory, using non-actors to create a film that plays as if it were a documentary. If Soderbergh’s plan was to point his camera into the lives of ordinary people, then he’s succeeded, but his attempts to make it seem like real people in real situations backfires, because this fly-on-the-wall look into everyday lives and conversations of boring people just isn’t particularly interesting.

Once the film turns into a murder mystery, the plot becomes a predictable movie cliché, but it starts getting a bit tedious as the detective investigating Rose’s murder starts questioning everyone, and they basically tell him what we’ve already seen. By the way, Detective Taylor casually announces Rose’s murder to each person, he really must be the worst police detective ever, which is funny because Decker Moody, who plays him, is a police detective in real life. It just goes to show how boring police work must be in that area of Ohio, which makes you wonder why set a crime drama there at all. The other actors’ reactions to Rose’s death and the killer’s identity are just laughably bad, since they don’t seem to know how to react. Even a bit of melodramatic overacting would have been appreciated in these scenes. The whole time you’re watching, you think it’s leading somewhere, but honestly, it’s not, because all they do is check the fingerprints and they’ve found their killer.

The use of non-actors may be the film’s biggest weakness. While Debbie Doebereiner and Misty Wilkins are both convincing as their characters, most of the guys are just terrible. For those who complain about Heath Ledger’s mumbling in “Brokeback Mountain”, Dustin Ashley’s Kyle is cut from the same mold, mumbling the few lines he has in the movie. It’s hard to believe that Rose might be interested in him because he seems so dull and gloomy, although we find out later why that is. Kyle Smith as Rose’s ex is just as bad, more because of his overacting.

The dialogue is so unbelievably bland and plain that you wonder if it’s improvised, because it’s hard to believe that anyone might have actually scripted it, as opposed to being made up as it went along. The “actors” seem to just be saying whatever is on their mind, which isn’t a hell of a lot. It’s pretty mind-blowing that these regular people seem less real than a decent actor might, and the whole thing just comes across like a bad high school play.

That said, the film does look really good, as Soderbergh’s director of photography shows how great a film can look using digital technology. The sublime scenes of work being done in the doll factory and the tranquil Ohio countryside is enjoyable, not never enough to tell an interesting story. The soundtrack, basically a single acoustic guitar playing random chords, gets annoying after awhile, because it adds nothing to the film. Fortunately, the movie is really short, just 75 minutes, so it’s over before you feel like you’ve wasted any time on it–Woody Allen should take note–but that also doesn’t leave much time to develop the characters or relationships, so surely there must be some middle ground.

The Bottom Line:
In case Soderbergh hasn’t completely made a mockery of his once respected career, “Bubble” is the first of six nails in its coffin, a dull experiment that doesn’t work and makes little sense, since I honestly can’t imagine anyone who might want to see this, whether it be in a theatres, on cable or DVD.

For those who do, Bubble opens in select cities on January 27, before being released on DVD on Tuesday, January 31.