All the hamfisted references to “The Divine Comedy” make it clear that this vanity production from writer-director Isaac H. Eaton and star Balthasar Getty (who’s listed as a co-producer) is meant to be a Dantesque journey, but it’s not entirely obvious whether one should describe it as a cinematic inferno or purgatory. On the one hand, it eventually ends, so it’s not entirely hellish, but on the other one certainly doesn’t feel in any way cleansed after viewing it. Let’s just say it’s one of those self-important bits of pseudo-philosophical twaddle that occasionally escape from film festival limbo and find their way, for some reason, into actual theatrical release, where unsuspecting audiences might accidentally stumble upon them.
Getty, looking more and more like a poverty-row Charlie Sheen with each passing day, plays a callow recovering cokehead quite appropriately named Holloway who’s befriended by a mysterious stranger calling himself Chappell. As played by Peter Weller, this black-clothed, smooth-tongued seducer is a preening, pompous windbag who expostulates endlessly on the degeneracy of man and leads our boobish young protagonist on a tour of what would once have been termed the seamy underbelly of Lala-Land. The journey, alas, is disappointingly prosaic, involving trips to brothels, tough-guy fights, Russian-roulette casinos and–gasp!–body-piercing emporia. There’s also a secondary plot involving (what else?) a serial killer; this twist allows the introduction of two of the dumbest cops ever depicted on screen, played with suitable embarrassment by Peter Greene and Michael Dorn. Others trapped in Eaton’s wordy, cliche-ridden script include Rebecca Gayheart as Holloway’s Beatrice, a pregnant lass named Chloe; Brad Dourif as his eccentric gas-station boss, whose performance consists entirely of thrusting out his chin and affecting a bad southern accent; and Frederic Forrest, looking like the seedy hippie he undoubtedly is, as a loquacious, scraggly-haired drug-dealer.
Simultaneously vapid and pretentious, “Shadow Hours” doesn’t even work as a modernization of Dante’s work, since it’s never made clear whom Chappell represents: on the one hand, he’s a demonic figure, but on the other he obviously intends Holloway’s wallow in urban slime to have a redemptive effect. (The suggestion that one can achieve salvation only by descending to the nadir will surely be a comfort to those for whom self-restraint is too difficult a proposition.) One needn’t worry overmuch about difficulties of interpretation, however, because despite its self-conscious striving to seem thoughtful, the picture is far too shallow to warrant much analysis. It does, however, exhibit a slick surface sheen, indicating that the crew must have been composed of professionals, and its concentration on the freakishness found in the byways of modern cities gives it a certain morbid interest; it’s never entirely dull. But the technical gloss and prurient themes can’t disguise the emptiness at its core. By the time the short but seemingly interminable “Hours” finally reaches its resolution, one hopes only that Eaton doesn’t intend to ape Dante to the extent of making it but the first installment of an eventual trilogy.