Some movies get by on their charm, and Aaron Katz's third feature film, Cold Weather, certainly falls into that category. No one is going to watch this movie because they're caught up in the story, fascinated by the scintillating dialogue, or drawn in by the depth of the characters, but Katz and his cast manage to make Cold Weather just absorbing enough that it works despite its flimsy structure, even though it demands some patience from its audience while they wait for the story to finally kick in.
Cold Weather is set in Portland, OR, where Doug (Cris Lankenau) has just rolled into town after quitting college in the Midwest. Doug was studying forensic science, and he'd like to become a detective, but it's clear he lacks the focus or the drive to get the degree that would make that possible. Doug ends up moving in with his older sister, Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), and taking a job in a factory that produces and packages ice in bulk. When Doug's former girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) comes to Portland, they renew their friendship, though it's clear neither is romantically drawn to the other anymore, and Rachel ends up dating one of Doug's friends from work, Carlos (Raúl Castillo). When Carlos is stood up by Rachel after they'd made a date to meet at a club, he's certain something has happened to her, and he calls Doug for help. After Doug is convinced Rachel really has disappeared, it isn't long before he shifts into detective mode and begins figuring out where Rachel might have gone; as it happens, Doug is bright enough to actually track her down, but he quickly learns she's gotten involved with some shady characters who deal in pornography and money that needs to be laundered.
Cold Weather has been running for close to 35 minutes before anything that resembles an actual plot development appears onscreen, and while the story becomes considerably more absorbing once Doug starts getting in touch with his inner Sherlock Holmes, even then this is a movie that takes its sweet time and doesn't concern itself with the finer points of narrative structure. Writer and director Aaron Katz is perfectly happy to let us watch guys move crates of ice or folks eat sandwiches in the rain for several minutes at a stretch, and it's good for him that he's able to bring a certain deadpan wit to the proceedings, or otherwise Cold Weather would grind to a halt before anything actually started happening. While Cris Lankenau is not the most magnetic screen presence in recent memory as Doug, he gives the character a certain rumpled likability and just enough smarts that it's a bit surprising but not shocking to find he has genuine detective skills. Lankenau also plays well off Raúl Castillo as the mellow but considerably more intense Carlos, who adds a playful but realistic dimension to his character's sidelines as a dance-club DJ and Star Trek fanatic. Trieste Kelly Dunn seems to drift in and out of the narrative as Gail, but she's a likable and compelling presence when she does get something to do, and she has truly realistic sibling chemistry with Lankenau. And though Robyn Rikoon's Rachel is more of a MacGuffin than a real character, she's funny and charming and makes the most of her moments onscreen. Andrew Reed's cinematography sometimes betrays the film's low budget, but more often finds a curious beauty in the rainy and run-down Oregon locations, and Keegan DeWitt's minimal but melodic score is first-rate.
As for Katz, he's managed a rather remarkable achievement -- he's made a film that takes a long time to get going, often wanders away from the narrative, and leaves untold loose ends hanging before it finally wraps up, but still ends up being likable and entertaining in its own low-key way. Who knows if Katz is the future of the mumblecore movement, but with Cold Weather he's at least proved you can fuse its stylistic elements with a whodunit and come up with something that's fresh and absorbing, even when you're not sure just where the whole thing is headed.