Promoted as a teen suicide awareness film, Archie’s Final Project comes off as a gratuitous exploitation of teen angst, made for the attention-deficient, packaged in elaborate production. The irony of this movie is it seems derived from the very same self-indulgence it aims to illuminate.
Archie (Gabriel Sunday) is a dark, lonely teen who records all of his life disappointments. For his final project in film class, he announces that he intends to kill himself on camera.
In addition to pissing off and scaring his teacher (as well as the rest of the adults in the film), Archie’s declaration earns him intrigue and popularity, including from the sexy Sierra Silver (Brooke Nevin), over whom he has long obsessed, but who never even knew he existed.
This teen angst movie does have its charms, including good-to-sometimes-great performances by the leads, as well as by Sierra’s mom (Mariel Hemingway), Archie’s shrink (Joe Mantegna) and the poet/filmmaker Jesse Vargas (David Carradine) whom Archie idolizes. (Carradine’s talking about the sweet relief of death is so perfect.)
At times, it’s difficult not to be sucked in. Archie does a killer Christopher Walken imitation with intelligent reference to Platoon. And though I wouldn’t call this an art-house film, the editing and special effects kept me engaged through what felt like the first four hours. Overall, though, Archie just drags on for way too long. It lacks the intelligence Christian Slater brought to Heathers as well as the sincerity of Kids.
The principal device—filming within a film—at first succeeds by suggesting that these kids can take their cameras to places filmmakers can’t ordinarily go, but the footage doesn’t feel personal enough. I feel like the scene has been scripted for me.
The public-relations packet for Archie is full of references to “teen suicide awareness week” and statistics that cast suicide as “the second leading cause of death among young people ages 5-19.” Even so, when asked if 12- or 14-year-olds could see this movie, a representative from the PR office enthusiastically affirmed that they could. Compare that to this quote from the movie: “A girl’s got to suck a lot of cock to support her coke habit.”
At one point, Carradine takes our hero on a walk through Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles and tells him to stop taking and start giving. Archie is redeemed, but before the movie ends, we’ll have one more (not so) surprising twist, which more than anything suggests that Archie can’t escape his past and the damage he’s done while indulging himself, no matter how many Skid Row moments he’s had.
Unfortunately, the enduring lesson from Archie’s Final Project is that we have failed our youth. The future looks bleak.