Benedikt Sebastian in Toxic Impulses (Photos: Major Major Films)

By Matt Brunson

★★½ (out of four)
STARS Benedikt Sebastian, Olivia Buckle

It’s clear that the new thriller Toxic Impulses wants to be accepted as a film noir, but it isn’t quite there. Best, then, to just label it a film taupe and call it a day.

That’s not to say this latest effort from writer-director Kyle Schadt (whose previous picture, Silent Panic, was reviewed here) doesn’t offer some staples of that beloved genre. While the bright color schemes and the lack of shadow-filled and smoke-choked scenarios make it seem like a non-neo-noir, it does tap into the roots by offering a disheveled gumshoe, a potential femme fatale, and an atmosphere of fatalistic dread.

Benedikt Sebastian stars as Mosley, an ex-cop living in L.A. (Is the name a salute to crime novelist Walter Mosley? Perhaps.) Mosley reluctantly decides to turn private eye after he’s approached by his new neighbor, Zemira (Olivia Buckle), with an assignment. Zemira claims that she’s being blackmailed by a quick-tempered brute named Boyd (Robert Ackerman Moss), and she wants Mosley to help her escape from his clutches. What she doesn’t tell him is that she’s a bank robber working under Boyd. As Mosley investigates, he runs into several other characters who may or may not be up to no good, including Zemira’s ex-husband James (Jay Habre) and Keisha (Sara Elizabeth Ryan), a young woman who prides herself on the fact that she hates to read yet works in a bookstore.

Olivia Buckle in Toxic Impulses

While much of Toxic Impulses feels familiar — for instance, a certain good guy is certain to actually be a bad guy, a twist that can be spotted even from a Chinese spy balloon 60,000 feet in the air — a few interludes prove to be unexpected, none more so than a major plot pirouette that occurs entering the home stretch. It’s a startling development, to say the least.

Buckle was an interesting choice to play Zemira — we’re used to our noir leading ladies looking as slinky and sultry as Gene Tierney or Lauren Bacall, but here the femme fatale has been recast as the girl next door. Sebastian brings an affable hangdog quality to his character — if Mosley has a screen antecedent, it wouldn’t be Humphrey Bogart’s steely Philip Marlowe in Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep but Elliott Gould’s shambling Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. Yet what amused me most about this character is that, intentionally or not, Mosley comes across as a complete imbecile: unable to read people, not picking up on obvious clues that something’s amiss, and wasting valuable time chasing what’s obviously a false lead long after the point that even a 5-year-old would have grasped the situation. Mosley is like the Forrest Gump of former flatfoots, the Inspector Clouseau of indie investigators, and the Spicoli of shuffling shamuses all rolled into one.

(Toxic Impulses is available to rent or purchase on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and other streaming services.)

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