Grossly underappreciated for his harrowing work on TV's "Southland," Michael Cudlitz is an explosive actor masterful at keeping that energy (barely) under control, buzzing just below the surface. He does so again — initially, at least — in director Suri Krishnamma's psychological thriller, originally titled "The Grief Tourist."
Jim, a Yonkers security guard on the graveyard shift, spends his vacations visiting the haunts of serial killers. It's a macabre hobby, but he defends it: How is his trip to California to see the crime scenes of 1960s arsonist Carl Marznap (Pruitt Taylor Vince) any different from visiting Dealey Plaza in Dallas or ground zero in New York?
Along the way, he strikes up a friendship with small-town waitress Betsy (Melanie Griffith, who's still pretty adorable) and has a chance at a normal life. But through his hard-boiled voice-over — a device that works when you have a loner antihero in constant conversation with himself and the long-deceased object of his obsession — we glean that Jim shares traumatizing experiences with Carl and fears the evil lurking within himself.
Capably photographed by Ricardo Jacques Gale in muted, almost sepia, tones, "Dark Tourist" gets bogged down in insufferably slow-moving scenes — interestingly, when Jim is interacting with others, despite consummate performances from Cudlitz and Griffith. Then Jim's tenuous hold on reality slips out of his grasp, and he's reeling, as are we, as Krishnamma's psychological simmer bursts into a grotesque, exploitive mess.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Playing: TCL Chinese 6, Hollywood