If you've seen "American Beauty," you will no doubt remember Wes Bentley as Ricky Fitts, the teenager who sold dope to neighbor Kevin Spacey and romanced his daughter. The boy's unnatural tranquility and intense, blue-eyed gaze hinted at craziness, but he proved to have very sensitive, aesthetic tendencies. Showing the girl an exquisite little video he'd made of a plastic bag blowing around the street with forlorn grace, he confessed that sometimes, there was so much beauty in the world, he just wanted to cry.
It was memorable, and it seemed a sure bet that the handsome, 21-year-old Bentley was going to be seen a lot more after that. Instead, after roles in a few unheralded films, ending with "The Four Feathers" five years ago, he basically disappeared from the movie scene.
Bentley is back in the holiday horror thriller "P2," and this time there's no doubt at all that the character he's playing is unhinged. His name is Thomas, and he's a security guard in the parking garage of an office building on New York City's Park Avenue. The blue eyes appear to have been made black via contact lenses, but the gaze is still intense, and it has been fixed for some time, unbeknownst to her, on Angela (Rachel Nichols), an attractive young workaholic who labors in the building.
Angela has worked late, as usual, on Christmas Eve, and has to rush to the family gathering in New Jersey. Her Beemer, parked in the garage on level -- you guessed it -- P2, won't start, so she enlists the help of Tom, who's working the overnight shift with his menacing rottweiler, Rocky. Tom, a little nervous but very polite and friendly, can't seem to jump-start the car's battery. He invites Angela, who's trying hard to be nice but getting a little testy, to share the little holiday dinner he has prepared for himself instead of calling a cab, but then claims he's "just kidding."
Turns out he isn't, and that he won't take "no" for an answer. Angela discovers this soon after, when she finds herself, in a chloroformed haze, dressed in a low-cut, white gown and -- shades of "Black Snake Moan"! -- shackled to a table in the security office where Tom has laid out a romantic Christmas Eve dinner. He's highly attentive and gentlemanly, but Angela knows enough to escape as soon as she can, sans high heels. That starts the main action of the story, the cat-and-mouse game between the obsessed-but-shrewd Tom and the petrified-but-resourceful Angela in the many nooks and crannies of the parking garage.
"P2" is more suspenseful than scary, and, while it features a lot of blood, is, one might say, gore-punctuated rather than a gorefest. It's not groundbreaking, but it's a solid first effort from Khalfoun, with sure-handed pacing and editing.
Nichols gives a very naturalistic performance, which means she spends most of the movie looking like hell, but she does quite well carrying the major share of the movie. Bentley's incongruous courtliness is effectively creepy here, but I'd like to see him do something further from his Ricky Fitts persona. I'd also like to see, for once, a rottweiler portrayed as a well-bred, well-raised one really is -- as affection-seeking as any retriever -- but Rocky is one of the scariest things in the film.
3 stars (Out of 4)
STARRING: Wes Bentley and Rachel Nichols
DIRECTOR: Franck Khalfoun
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
RATING: R for violence, some gore and language.
THE LOWDOWN: A young woman leaving her office late on Christmas Eve is held captive in the building's parking garage by the psychopathic security guard.