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Clark Gregg may be the picture of go-getter competence as Agent Coulson in The Avengers and its brethren (and soon to be revived, apparently, if Joss Whedon's S.H.I.E.L.D pilot makes it to next fall), but his work as a writer-director goes darker. His first feature adapted the blackly comic (and smugly black) Chuck Palahniuk novel Choke, with Sam Rockwell in the lead and Gregg himself in a supporting role. For his follow-up, he's swapped places with Rockwell, who appears briefly as a smarmy rival to Gregg's Howard Holloway, a desperate former child actor turned child-actor-agent. As with most movies about desperate Hollywood types, Trust Me takes place over just 36 hours or so, as Howard angles to represent up-and-comer Lydia (Saxon Sharbino) and secure her a place in a Harry Potter-ish film franchise.
At first, Trust Me looks and sounds like a shallow satire of Hollywood hustle, but it swerves away from cheap shots relatively early, and Howard's negotiations have some real tension. But that's not the last of its surprises, and the later ones aren't so pleasurable: as the movie gets twistier and more serious, it borders on self-pity. Also, I'm sorry and frankly kind of confused to report that Sharbino is a weak link: she's supposed to be a natural but her off-script savvy never sounds convincing; her low, sardonic whisper sounds like Chloe Moretz at her most stilted. It's nice to hear Amanda Peet, playing Howard's neighbor and crush, spit out some snappy dialogue for the first time in a while, and Gregg does nice work as a hustler unsure about how much of jerk he can or should be. I don't begrudge Trust Me's lack of redemptive uplift, but I wouldn't mind Gregg trying his hand at something that wants to be as much fun as some of this movie is. Jesse Hassenger
Screens Sunday. More info here.