Is director Griffin Dunne on acid? I began to wonder three quarters of the way through Fierce People, when the wealthy playboy portrayed by Chris Evans gives a dose of LSD to Anton Yelchin’s teenage protagonist; perhaps some of the drug found its way into the set’s watercooler. How else to explain this bizarre jumble of a picture, which aspires to the off-key kookiness of Harold and Maude or The Royal Tenenbaums, but rapidly devolves into an exercise in labored whimsy?
Adapted by Dirk Wittenborn from his novel, Fierce People follows the fate of 16-year-old Finn (Yelchin) over the summer of 1980, when a plan to join his divorced anthropologist dad in the forests of South America is hijacked by Mom (Lane), a coked-up massage therapist who drags the unwilling teen with her to an estate in New Jersey. She’s been employed by Ogden C. Osborne (Sutherland), an eccentric millionaire eunuch with a free-spirited but toxic clan, including granddaughter Maya (Stewart). (Finn and Maya meet cute when she catches him—with a bear trap.) Later, Finn is raped by an anonymous attacker—a plot development that jolts Fierce People into the realm of flat-out nonsense. What a bad trip.