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December 7-13, 2005

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Waterborne

Don't Take Me to the River: When L.A.'s water supply is threatened, the gurgling gets ugly.

Waterless World

Los Gatos-raised filmmaker Ben Rekhi's indie movie 'Waterborne' condemns L.A. to terror


By Richard von Busack

ANY NORTHERN CALIFORNIAN who has empurpled over L.A.'s prodigal habits with water—the way people there let hoses run water over their driveways and down the gutters, for instance—will get revenge watching Waterborne. Former Los Gatos filmmaker and NYU film school grad Ben Rekhi (profiled in Metro Oct. 5 for his movie Car Babes) directed this lean and economical speculative-fiction piece about a terrorist attack on L.A.'s water supply. As the town is always on the brink of chaos anyway, the sudden lack of drinking water doesn't encourage anyone's compassion.

Violence breaks out within a couple of days. The already-on-the-edge marijuana dealer Bodi (Jake Muxworthy) is ready to lose his mind, despite the calming influence of his cousin Zach (Christopher Masterson, Francis from Malcolm in the Middle). A jittery National Guard trooper (Chris Berry) is also on the edge of blowing a fuse, such as when he overreacts while capturing a pair of hillbilly water poachers.

Despite Masterson's loose and likable personality, the center of the film is Ajay Naidu's Vikram, who acts with Old World gravity and liquid-eyed charm. (This Sikh character has been amusingly misidentified by Film Threat and efilmcritic.com as an "Arab-American" and a "Middle Easterner," respectively.) The son of a convenience-market owner, Vikram is dating a slightly naive blonde American girl (Mageina Tovah), who doesn't realize that her bralessness is going to provoke Vikram's icily traditional mother. When the water shortage hits, the family store is attacked. Looting is shortly followed by a hate crime.

Rekhi's best work arrives about 40 minutes into this short feature film: a montage, styled after the baptism sequence in The Godfather, where Rekhi cuts from a Sikh prayer sequence to the attack on the store and to a fight breaking out at a hemp-smoking party. Here Waterborne leaves behind its modish, post-Soderbergh, tinted, snatch-and-run visuals and achieves a true fluidity. This sequence indicates bigger and better things for Rekhi; and it showcases maybe the most interesting aspect of Waterborne: as a minority-eye view of what it means to be faced with anti-Arab racism after Sept. 11.

Two weak links in this L.A. tag-team movie. The first is the plot. No one can explain how the poisoning was done. The second is Muxworthy's acting. He is playing a character who should have come off as a delightful loser but instead comes off as an arrogant ass-hat. After Bodi flips out from lack of water, Zach claims, "I don't even know you anymore," and the viewer could add, "I didn't even know who you were supposed to be since the film started." The fact that Bodi can't borrow a bottle of water from a passing car doesn't show how much civilization breaks down in crisis. No one can get away with that kind of mooching even when bottled water is a buck a quart. In any case, of the various ways fate or outer-space aliens have clobbered L.A., dehydration hasn't been one method tried until now. Marketed as a terrorism movie, this may be more futuristic: The thought of what happens when L.A. runs out of water is scary enough for a dozen horror films.


Movie Times Waterborne (Unrated; 120 min.), directed and written by Ben Rekhi, photographed by Ben Kutchins and starring Ajay Naidu and Jake Muxowrthy, opens Friday at Camera 12 in San Jose.

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