Grade: D

“AKA” is boring, and boring in an irritatingly complicated way. Based on a true story, Duncan Roy’s film is about Dean Page, a young lower-class British youth abused by his brutal stepfather who briefly lives the high life by assuming the name of a haughty aristocrat and bamboozling some members of the English upper crust (including an uncle of the fellow he’s impersonating) into accepting him as one of their own. This is obviously a Ripleyesque story, but it lacks both the drama and the beautiful characterization of Patricia Highsmith’s novels about that master identity thief. And to make matters worse, Roy stages it in perpetual split screen, giving us three side-by-side images spread across every widescreen shot. It’s a visually fatiguing mode of presentation, but what makes it really annoying is that it’s never used to add depth or resonance to the narrative, remaining nothing more than a pretentious affectation.

Matthew Leitch plays Page, who’s introduced as the doting son of Georgie (Lindsey Coulson), a waitress whose tales of the upper-crust socialites she serves fascinate him. When he’s mistreated by his soccer-playing thug of a stepfather (Geoff Bell), the boy runs off and is soon picked up by a middle-aged gay man, who offers him shelter at his home–on a strictly platonic basis, it seems. But before long Page leaves this reasonably comfortable abode and searches out one of his mother’s favorite customers, art patroness Lady Gryffoyn (Diana Quick). He quickly persuades her to take him in, but her snooty son (Blake Ritson) treats him condescendingly and eventually throws him out. Fortunately Page bumps into a pretty kept boy, Benjamin (Peter Youngblood Hills), who encourages him to come to Paris, where he takes up with Benjamin and his patron, wealthy gadabout David Glendenning (George Asprey). But he does so not as himself, but as Alexander Gryffoyn, and in the process charges some purchases on one of Alexander’s credit cards with which he’s absconded, putting a class-conscious security man on his tail. In his aristocratic guise, and with Glendenning’s unwitting help, Page wins easy acceptance among the British high flyers on the continent, even including Gryffoyn’s long-exiled Uncle Louis (Bill Nighy). But the disappearance of some money from Glendenning’s wallet, and the natural stresses of a romantic triangle, ultimately lead the fickle Glendenning to send Benjamin away. Soon afterward Page is taken into custody by the authorities, and an epilogue indicates that he spent a short time in prison, being treated as a virtual celebrity by both cons and guards.

It’s conceivable that an interesting film might have been fashioned about Dean Page, but this certainly isn’t it. Roy’s script is at once too elliptical in its depiction of Page and too blunt in its portrayal of everybody else. Perhaps the protagonist could have been brought to life despite the failure of the writing by a stronger actor, but Leitch is pretty much a cipher, blandly handsome but nothing more. He makes Dean such a colorless, uncommunicative sort that it’s impossible to believe he ever could have ingratiated himself with so many people so easily, or finagled his way into high society. On the other hand, all the aristocratic figures are depicted in the most extravagantly snobbish fashion–they’re crude caricatures rather than real people–while Dean’s parents are portrayed as equally conventional kitchen-sink types. The picture is intended as an assault on the British class system, of course (the portrait of the guy who tracks Page down–a university-educated bloke who’s treated disparagingly by his former classmates–underscores the point all too bluntly), but even a small hint of subtlety would have been welcome. And as the Texas-born boy toy Benjamin, Hills is so perpetually shrill that he quickly becomes an exhausting, tiresome figure.

Still, all this would just make for a conventional failure. What gives “AKA” special distinction as a flop is the pointless decision to use the perpetual split-screen format. The idea made some (though not much) sense in Mike Figgis’ “Time Code,” which told a number of interlocking stories simultaneously; it was almost impossible to follow, but was at least a noble experiment. Here the technique is used merely to show the same action from slightly different angles and a few mini-seconds time difference, with no perceptible dramatic rationale. The device just makes a bad experience that much worse.

“AKA” is DOA. R.I.P.