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Amber Alert

2012 | 82 min | R | 1.85:1

Amber Alert


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Theatrical release date

 14 December, 2012

Country of origin

 United States



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Amber Alert Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, December 13, 2012

With found footage endeavors, we’ve seen giant monsters tearing through New York City, ghosts haunting a suburban California home, and adults getting lost in Maryland woods. Are you ready to watch one about pedophilia on Arizona freeways? “Amber Alert” is the latest entry into the DIY moviemaking sweepstakes, only this time the results are painfully amateurish, frustratingly dim-witted, and just a touch too tasteless. If the sound of child being molested and moronic lead characters endlessly bickering is your thing, perhaps the feature won’t feel like swallowing glass for 70 minutes. For everyone else, “Amber Alert” is a repetitive, dreadfully padded event, employing a real-world horror to fuel cheap shocks and a bogus dissection of moral responsibility.

Nate (Chris Hill) and Sam (Summer Bellessa) are friends on the hunt for a reality television show, employing Nate’s brother (Chris Hill) to help shoot footage of the duo as they share their lives and hopes for an audition video. As it normally goes, Nate is in love with Sam, but the two carry on as pals, hoping to find fame and fortune on T.V. On their way to a mountain location to provide a more interesting backdrop to their confessions, the trio notices a gray Honda matching the description of a posted Amber Alert warning, soon following the car as they attempt to make contact with the police for further instruction. While Nate is content to let authorities handle the situation, Sam is intent on following through with their pursuit, tailing the car throughout Phoenix while the pair endlessly argue about their duty. During a stop, Sam discovers a child in the backseat of the Honda, intensifying her efforts to hunt down the driver (Jasen Wade) while Nate dissolves into panic.

Directed by Kerry Bellessa, “Amber Alert” is trying to do much with very little. The premise is simple enough, with do-gooders Nate and Sam trying to thwart a potential kidnapping by reporting the car in question to local authorities, tracking the driver for hours to make sure justice is served. While the use of the Amber Alert system for a cinematic gimmick is uncomfortable enough, Bellessa adds fuel to the fire by making Nate and Sam two incredibly unlikable characters, divided over their function in this desperate situation. Being a feature about three people crammed inside a car, arguments are bound to occur, yet Bellessa (and her co-screenwriter Joshua Oram) fixates on bickering, leaving the majority of “Amber Alert” to petty fights between two abrasive personalities, each taking a stand on opposite sides of the liability question.

Exhaustion turns to irritation the longer Bellessa encourages her cast to faux fight over the Honda chase. With stronger, more experienced actors, perhaps the conflict could’ve worked, with talent gracefully picking beats of escalation while subtly massaging Nate’s barely concealed romantic intention for Sam. Instead, Hill and Bellessa spray the screen with their inexperience, working through clunky arguments in a distinctly camera-aware fashion, while Sam’s intriguing outrage is reduced to insufferable shrillness, with the script using this defiance as a way to manufacture convenient stupidity, thus extending the life of the plot.

Idiocy is a prime component of the “Amber Alert” experience, with local law enforcement a particular question mark Bellessa abuses. It seems the cops don’t really care about the Amber Alert report, despite knowledge of the car’s location and camera footage of the chase, which, at one point, actually reveals the driver as Nate and Sam confront the man on the side of a freeway. The script even goes as far as to have Sam drop a microphone into the Honda, allowing Nate’s radio to pick up on conversations between the driver and his young victim. Cops actually participating in the chase would kill off the suspense of “Amber Alert,” so Bellessa casually ignores their contribution in increasingly ludicrous ways, while keeping Nate and Sam silent when it comes to reporting the car’s whereabouts when it’s parked for a period of time. There’s also a question of Nate, who’s oddly powerless despite his complete control over his own car. There’s not a moment where the character simply refuses his beloved, instead whining like a child when Sam demands further responsibility for the rescue attempt.

“Amber Alert” opens with a card describing the footage as “recovered” at the scene of a crime by local police, though I fail to understand why the cops would take the time to edit the tape to highlight their own incompetence. Perhaps questions should not be asked of this unappetizing movie, which eventually turns into a lurid haunted house picture in the finale, using sexual abuse for shock value, while dreaming up a lump of an ending intended to encourage sympathy for two people that brought doom upon themselves. “Amber Alert” aspires to inspect heroism and moral obligation, but all it truly achieves is a sense of incompletion, highlighting Bellessa’s failure to think her concept through, identifying plot holes and assessing the toxicity of her premise.

Starring: Summer Bellessa, Jasen Wade, Chris Hill
Director: Kerry Bellessa

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