Joel Hogan and Donald Prabatah in Chameleon.
Joel Hogan and Donald Prabatah in Chameleon.

Film review: Chameleon

by / May. 18, 2020 1pm EST

For its first 45 minutes, director Marcus Mizelle’s independent crime drama is a masterpiece of concision. Fresh out of a California prison and unwilling to face a future of menial employment, Patrick (Joel Hogan) hatches a scheme with his former cellmate Dolph (Donald Prabatah). Patrick will use his good looks to seduce the trophy wife of a rich men, luring her to an out of the way location where Dolph can kidnap her, holding her for ransom. Their first attempt works like a charm, so they repeat it, again and again, in interwoven scenes forming a mosaic that would be confusing were it not for Hogan’s changing hair lengths.

When Patrick becomes consumed by guilt over this shady business, he agrees to pull one last job to satisfy his insistent partner. But their last victim, Rebecca (Alicia Leigh Willis), offers a few surprises, beginning with Patrick’s genuine attraction to her.

Working on a low budget, Mizelle serves as his own writer, editor and cinematographer (along with Victoria Stein). The photography is first rate, as is Mizelle’s eye for serviceable locations. But as impressive his editing is, as the film comes to an end we realize that he has cut too close to the bone. The relationship between Patrick and Rebecca doesn’t sufficiently come alive for the finale to have the impact Mizelle was going for. And a climactic scene in a hotel hallway, which includes several shots that can only be understood in retrospect as fantasies, is needlessly confusing. The end result clocks in at barely 70 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of credits (and a post-credits scene that doesn’t add anything). It’s a shame Mizelle didn’t use that extra time to flesh out his story a little: it might have slowed the film down some, but the extra impact would have been worth it.