Here’s one of those small time, low budget independent movies you never really heard of, because it never really caught on. This one’s not even on DVD, and I think it’s out of print on VHS. Made in 1999 and with no recognizable faces except the star, Patrick Warburton, that big deep-voiced goofball I guess was on Seinfeld.
The twist is, this movie is pretty good. This is one of the rare independent rookie movies that remind you why you try watching all the other ones – ’cause you’re hoping you’ll find one of these ones. I picked it up because it’s one of only a handful of movies based on books by Charles Willeford, the writer of COCKFIGHTER (book and movie) and MIAMI BLUES (book only). I haven’t read this book but seeing the movie, I’m betting it’s a great one.
The book was written in 1960, which seems about when the movie takes place. It’s shot in black and white with a real retro feel and score. Mr. Warburton plays Richard Hudson who starts out the movie “stealing a used car lot” next to the Capitol Records building, taking over an “Honest Al’s” franchise but hiring a manager to sell his cars for him. But he’s real bored with life. And he decides that if he’s going to be happy he must make one powerful creative statement. He chooses the medium of the motion picture, and uses the skills of his washed up movie producer stepfather to make it happen. Oh, and also $40,000 embezzled from the car lot.
The movie definitely has a noir feel, and most of the story is told with voiceovers. But it’s hard to say it’s exactly a crime movie. He’s technically committing some crimes, that’s for sure, but it’s not your usual robbery and murder type crimes. This is more a movie about making a movie, like ED WOOD or LIVING IN OBLIVION or that type of thing.
And what’s really unusual is that at times, I actually wanted to see this movie they’re making. Usually if a movie is about a fictional character creating a movie, TV show, book or play, that work is a worthless piece of garbage. The movie pretends it’s good, but who the fuck wants to see that? Nobody wants to throw away a good movie as a movie within a movie, so they don’t do it. But they still sometimes pretend the characters are making something great. Same with music. Nobody really thinks that singer in BE COOL is so fuckin great. But you gotta kind of play along when Chili Palmer says she is.
This one though, he’s making some crazy movie about a truck driver who runs over a little girl, then spends the movie barreling down the highway chased by the cops until he finally rams kamikaze style into a road block built out of junk by angry citizens. It sounds like DUEL where the truck is the hero! It’s a metaphor for “one man against the world,” and for Hudson’s own life. There’s a great scene where he finds the star for the movie, a bitter ex-theater actor he heard about. He finds the guy riding a horse in an orange field, auditions and hires him on the spot. But it’s not a friendly conversation, more like a sword duel to test his skills. He treats it more like he’s recruiting a gunman than an actor. And then he uses cruel psychological tricks to get performances out of non-actors, and scores the entire thing with improvisational guitar. Admittedly, the scenes you see don’t look great, but when they talk about it they make it sound good, like the forgotten masterpiece of some lunatic Sam Fuller wannabe. I would definitely rent the DVD.
Maybe it would be disappointing though. So it’s probaly for the best that the movie doesn’t exist. We only see a tiny bit of it and hear the pitch, so it can always exist in our minds as that great movie we imagine, and not on celluloid as an actual, crappy movie. In my version, it gets a Criterion Edition.
I should mention by the way that this guy is not really a woman chaser. That title is actually too kind to this motherfucker because what he really does is get them to chase after him. Either they come after him, or he tricks them into coming after him, he fucks them then he abandons them. Nobody’s gonna be real bothered by embezzling the money, but when you see how this guy treats women, you’re maybe gonna be a little uncomfortable. It seems like the only woman he actually likes is his mother, who he has a weird Oedipal/ballet related relationship with. You really realize this guy is fuckin nuts. But to be frankly honest that would probaly help his movie. Anyway, this guy is an asshole but by now you’re deep enough into the movie and you’re hearing his internal monologue and what not, you got no choice but to identify somewhat with him anyway… just like he says you will do when you watch his truck driver that ran over a little girl movie.
Warburton is real good playing a funny character, but not as a cartoon. I also liked the guy playing his stepfather Leo. I coulda sworn he was some veteran character actor like Bud Cort or somebody, but turns out this is his only movie. I wonder if the director was screwing the actors to get good performances out of them, like Hudson does in the movie? Well, we’ll never know unless they put out a DVD with a commentary track.
This is a very original and surprisingly involving neo-noir. The director is called Robinson Devor – this was his first movie, his new one POLICE BEAT played at Sundance this year and was written by this wacko who writes pretentious reviews for one of the weeklies here in Seattle. Luckily I didn’t know that until it was too late so I gave this one a shot and now I’ll be willing to watch the next one.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.