Search
Kicking the Tweets
Friday
Feb112011

Black Dynamite (2009) Home Video Review

Code of Ethnics

If you’ve seen any Blaxploitation movie or the Wayans Brothers’ I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, you can skip Black Dynamite.  A joke is only really funny the first time you hear it, and eighty-four minutes of old jokes is a sojourn in Hell.

Director Scott Sanders seems to think that his farce about a streetwise, ex-CIA Kung Fu master taking on The Man to avenge the murder of his brother is new territory—that the retro-pimps-platforms-and-puffy-hair era hasn’t been parodied in a hundred TV shows, movies and Web avatars in the forty years since Richard Roundtree first strutted down the street to Isaac Hayes’ Shaft theme.  But he’s wrong, and the only thing he gets right in this lowest-common-denominator retread is the look and feel of a low-budget 70s actioner.

Instead of using his gift for capturing an era with perfect wardrobe, music and film stock to do what Quentin Tarantino did with Death Proof—which is to tell a new and interesting story using genre conventions as a starting point and not a destination—Sanders tries to make Airplane!-in-the-ghetto.  I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with that, except all of the jokes and gags are the first things that spring to mind when I think of what would likely show up in a movie with that description.

Look!  You can see the boom mic when Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) stands up from his desk!

Hey!  Check out that ad for Anaconda Malt Liquor!  Black guys have huge penises, you know.

ROTFLMAO.

It’s all too easy.  Worse yet, there are some cases where Sanders and co-writers White and Byron Minns don’t bother to make fun of Blaxploitation movies—they straight-up co-opt them.  Like the scene where Black Dynamite’s large madam friend, Honeybee (Kym Whitley) cries, “Black Dynamite, I’m so happy.”  This is a callback to the movie Dolemite, where a large madam named Queen Bee delivers almost the exact same line—it’s hilarious in that movie because the acting is unbelievably bad.  In Black Dynamite, it’s a recreation of a moment that has nothing to do with anything, except to remind the four audience members who know better of a genuinely funny scene that took place decades ago.

This Xerox-ing of material and the accompanying cheekiness of everyone involved drags the film down.  The best comedy is unexpected.  If I tell you that the movie you’re about to watch is either the funniest or scariest thing you’ve ever seen in your life, your natural inclination—no matter how hard you fight it—is to be on the alert for points of reference (assuming you’re not a zombie, I mean).  Your mental search engine kicks into high gear as scenes play out, recalling everything that’s ever made you laugh or crawl under the covers.  The most successful movies spring things that you never saw coming—eliciting laughter or shrieks (sometimes shrieks of laughter).  The least successful ones elicit yawns or long chats about better movies.  This isn’t a conscious activity; it’s a human one, refined from millennia of evolution to help us navigate bullshit as a species.

Pardon the armchair science, but I’m sure there are Black Dynamite fans reading this who think I’m some kind of a freak for having sat stone-faced through what seemed like five hours of endless “wacky” martial arts fights, sex scenes and monologues where derivations of “jive-ass cracker turkey” are used so much you’d think they were being outlawed after the production wrapped (as they should be).  But for all the effort that went into production design on this film, the writers couldn’t invest more in their material than relying on the laughter of recognition when Arsenio Hall shows up in a funny outfit and proceeds to do absolutely nothing worth watching.

I was surprised by one aspect of Sanders’ movie, which is its rampant misogyny.  You could argue that since it’s a parody of a genre that wasn’t exactly pro-women’s-rights we should expect some “comical” bitch slaps and lots of willing flesh.  But Black Dynamite doesn’t comment on its demeaning treatment of women; it merely revels in it.  Even the strong female activist Gloria (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), initially built up as a sassy foil to the clueless, macho Black Dynamite, is reduced to a fawning damsel.  The scene at the end where our hero apologizes to Patricia Nixon (Nicole Sullivan) for having knocked her into a china cabinet isn’t so much an admission of mistreatment (he only “over-reacted”, after all) as it is an excuse for the writers to engage in that most tired and offensive tradition of urban cinema wherein a street-lingo-slinging thug delivers a rambling soliloquy full of big words in a “white-sounding” voice.  In one scene, we get a tasteless twofer.

Black Dynamite could have been a really great movie, had Sanders and company gone the straight storytelling route and made a retro-70s action film.  There are moments where the promise of what could have been shine through—as in the brief exchange between Black Dynamite and a thug named Chicago Wind (Mykelti Williamson); it’s tough-guy dialogue that comes close to exciting—until the screechy Kung Fu silliness ruins the scene.  I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating, the movies we consider to be cheesy today are funny because of how earnest they were; not because they constantly hit us over the head with assurances that we would laugh at them.  Instead of directing a bad parody (seriously, this could have been called Not Another Blaxploitation Movie), Scott Sanders would have been better off making a better version of one of the old films.

Besides, Keenan Ivory Wayans already covered this territory in 1988 with I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, which imagined what Blaxploitation characters would be like fifteen years after their prime.  It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s a unique beast that blends humor with ideas (like the throwaway scene where the hero goes to the former black revolutionary headquarters to round up troops in his war against The Man—he’s informed by the last hanger-on that all of the old rabble-rousers got government jobs; it’s a decent laugh, a comment on selling out, and an actual plot point).  Sanders could have learned a lot from Wayans.  Instead, he invested a lot of time, talent and money into the world’s longest, lamest knock-knock joke.

Wednesday
Feb092011

Dogtooth (2009) Home Video Review

A World of Human Wreckage

The only thing more puzzling than the movie Dogtooth is the New York Times blurb on its poster that reads, “Hilarious!”  It’s a foreign film—possibly the foreign film, if Oscar is kind—but I’m pretty sure a sullen-looking woman with blood running down her face doesn’t translate to “comedic romp” in any language.

But I went in with an open mind, which—by film’s end—was cracked and splattered across the realms of the inconceivable.  This is a seriously disturbed horror story that deserves to be seen by anyone decrying the lack of originality and emotion in movies.

Like The Human Centipede, Dogtooth takes place in a big, secluded house where a deranged old man performs experiments on three helpless innocents.  Don’t worry, Father (Christos Stergioglou) doesn’t fuse anybody’s anus to anyone else’s mouth; his captives are his children, for God’s sake.  No, his brand of exploration involves sequestering his teenagers from the outside world at all costs; including convincing them that stray cats are ferocious creatures who must be killed and teaching them incorrect word usage (“Vaginas” are called “Keyboards”).  Father also provides a sex partner for his son, Son (Hristos Passalis), in the form of Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), a comely security guard from his factory job.

Anal fusion doesn’t sound so bad now, eh?

While Father works, Mother (Michele Valley) stays home with the kids.  She lets them roam the family’s lush estate, indulging in dips in the pool and games of blindfolded, Reverse-Hide-and-Seek.  Their only education is a sexual one, with Christina secretly bartering with the girls for bejeweled headbands and hair gel in exchange for cunnilingus.

Teenage incest is an awful subject for entertainment.  Fortunately for Dogtooth, the filmmakers leave just enough questions unanswered to put the audience somewhat at ease.  For example, I would’ve had no idea that the kids are supposed to be teenagers had I not read the synopsis.  A quick IMDB search reveals that Older Daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia) was about thirty-five at the time of shooting.  All of the children look well into their twenties, though their behavior looks to have been arrested at the age of nine.

There’s also the issue of the family’s legitimacy.  Another film Dogtooth brings to mind is Disney’s Tangled, in which Rapunzel is kidnapped at infancy and raised in a hidden tower by a scheming sorceress.  Both films feature characters who are sheltered from the outside world by pure manipulation on the part of adults they trust implicitly.  With this in mind, I can’t say for sure that the three siblings in Dogtooth are actually related (true or not, it helps the numerous sex scenes go down a little easier).  If they are blood relatives, we must question what Father and Mother’s deal is.  Are they related?  Or did they meet in a Greek Kidnapper’s chat room?

Director Giorgos Lanthimos and his co-screenwriter Efthymis Filippou have created a brilliant, unique look at a group of people that could never (hopefully) exist.  Sure, it’s exploitive and sick, but it’s impossible not to get wrapped up in these sad lives.  Dogtooth benefits from the indie aversion to over-explaining everything, reveling in the weird ambiguity of a story that is essentially a ninety-minute second act.

We wonder how the parents can afford such nice digs, and where Father’s penchant for beating people over the head with electrical equipment comes from.  We marvel at the sisters’ naiveté can run so deep that they believe a toy airplane that Father left for them in the yard is actually a crashed version of the ones they see overhead—yet so shallow that they’re able to re-enact scenes from Rocky and Jaws; indeed, the only media in the household seems to be the porn in the parents’ bedroom.

The subject matter is matched by cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis’ beautiful compositions.  From the awkwardness of Son’s test of his sisters’ virility in a bathtub three-shot to a beautiful metal sink full of blood and tooth fragments, there are few frames in Dogtooth that couldn’t be ripped out and hung in a gallery.  I also loved the early scenes—in retrospect; not so much as they were happening—where we see the characters at strange, cropped angles, acting in a monotone that’s cloying until the story helps us understand why no one in the film is particularly expressive.  The camera joins in the dysfunction by showing us unsettling subject matter in ways that tell the brain things aren’t quite right.

I don’t know that Dogtooth has a point, other than as an exercise in making the audience uncomfortable (that is, unless you find it to be hilarious).  If there are undertones about homeschooling, I didn’t see them—and I doubt the Greeks are engaged in the same bogus fundamentalist culture wars that we are. I guess it comes down to whether or not people will tolerate a gorgeously acted, superbly shot movie about captivity and sibling sex.  I loved almost every squirmy, subtitled second of it.  I suggest you give this cinematic Rorschach Test a try before making with the dirty looks.

This review also appears on Cinelogue.

Monday
Feb072011

The Roommate (2011)

Run, White Bitch, Run!

Let’s get something out of the way:  The fact that The Roommate is an unofficial update of Single White Female has nothing to do with its quality or whether or not you should see it.  There are plenty of reasons to avoid the film, but this SWF remake hysteria is not one of them.  People act as if director Christian E. Christiansen and screenwriter Sonny Mallhi should be locked away for stealing the plot of a nineteen-year-old movie.  This premise is false for three reasons:

1.  The Roommate’s target audience wasn’t born when Single White Female came out; nor would they likely grasp the concept of looking up anything in a newspaper; thus the idea that this is some kind of back-door brand recognition is ridiculous.

2.  The people complaining about this film being a remake aren’t going to see it anyway.

3.  If intra-genre rehashing of stories, characters and scenes is a crime, then Nora Ephron, Ashton Kutcher, and Cameron Diaz should be shackled and banned from ever making movies again.

Is that settled?

Okay, good.  Let’s talk about The Roommate.

Scratch that.  I can’t begin without explaining the environment in which I saw it.  Last Saturday, at 7:50pm, I was the oldest attendee at Old Orchard Mall’s Theatre Seven by at least fifteen years.  The place was packed with teenagers, many of whom showed up in weird clusters that looked to represent pre-sleepover factions or gang bangers locked out of their cribs.  The atmosphere was so loud, so rambunctious and participatory, that I felt like I’d wandered into the theatre scene from Gremlins—minus the satisfying conclusion.

Because Theatre Seven doesn’t have stadium seating, I watched much of The Roommate with a shaved-dome silhouette obscuring the lower-right sixteenth of the screen.  The kid in front of me paid $9.50 to sit in a movie theatre with his head down, looking at his glowing cell phone for ninety minutes; he only looked up when he heard a scream, at which point he yelled things like, “Aw, hell naw!” and “Run, white bitch, run!”

This was a much uglier crowd than the fine folks I saw The Rite with last week, but I hunkered down and learned to enjoy the kicked-over buckets of popcorn and heartwarming spectacle of a four-year-old girl being escorted by her parents after the credits.  I was also proud to have helped make The Roommate the number one movie in America.

You may think you’ve got the film pegged by the synopsis: Sara (Minka Kelly), a freshman and Los Angeles University, gets paired with a psychotic lesbian roommate named Rebecca (Leighton Meester) whose possessiveness drives her to attack Sara’s friends and eventually try to kill her.  If you’ve seen Single White Female, or a few key episodes of any teen soap in the last twenty-five years, you know exactly what’s going to happen.  Because The Roommate is rated PG-13, you’ll be teased with nudity and violence, but the only casualty will be poor, misunderstood, under-medicated Rebecca.

That’s not what makes this film worth seeing.  I’m qualifying my recommendation by addressing only fans of The CW television network.  As I said before, if you’re not in The Roommate’s mental or physical demographic, chances are you’ll skip it anyway (chances are, you’re not even reading this).  But if you never miss Gossip Girl, 90210 or One Tree Hill, you’ll get a kick out of this movie.

Mostly that’s because The Roommate is a tame-horror mash-up of all that network’s shows.  Seriously, there’s at least one star from the aforementioned, as well as The Vampire Diaries and Hellcats; the opening ten minutes are like a bubblegum version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

But this isn’t just a case of cynical stunt-casting.  Leighton Meester is a revelation as Rebecca.  Her Blair Waldorf character on Gossip Girl is an empowered, manipulative socialite who loves high fashion and ruining people.  Here, the actress dials it back several degrees, disappearing into a meek and troubled performance.  She turns on the neediness and crazy eyes a bit too soon for my taste, but that’s what makes the story so fantastic.

You see, Sara is really, really dumb.  And so are her new campus girlfriends and hunky drummer boyfriend, Stephen (Cam Gigandet).  Apparently, no one in the film has seen a movie of this kind, and so don’t think to ask for a room transfer or ask questions when the creepy girl begins throwing evil, protective looks everywhere and, um, laundering kittens.  If anyone in The Roommate had acted like an adult, the movie would’ve been a short film—maybe even a public service announcement.

Speaking of adults, it wasn’t until I got home and checked IMDB that I realized why Kelly seemed so strange to me.  What I’d written off as a poor makeup job turned out to be a case of a thirty-year-old playing eighteen.  This is nothing new, of course, and she fits perfectly with late-twenties Gigandet, whose face is so constantly scrunched up in a smiling “I-feel-ya-babe” sympathy-squint that he looks like a botched Reagan wax dummy.

Despite the distracting cast, The Roommate has a few semi-effective horror moments; as when Tracy (Alyson Michalka) is stalked in the dorm showers.  It’s a shameless rip-off of a similar moment from the original Friday the 13th, but the director draws it out just enough to provide a satisfactory jump when Rebecca lunges into frame (though I’ll offer this tip to aspiring filmmakers: if you’re going to establish that a character has a belly button ring so that you can rip it out later, establish it before the scene in which it’s ripped out; Christiansen might as well have used a CG arrow with “Foreshadowing” stenciled on it when the piercing is introduced ).

I also appreciated the screwball guns-and-blunt-objects climax, which surprised me with its crazy violence and slightly dizzying dangling-from-a-window moments.  I probably would’ve enjoyed these scenes more had there not been running commentary from the audience about how much one or both of those “bitches” was gonna get “fucked/jacked” up.

I can’t defend The Roommate on any level, outside of CW fandom, or the hope that some teen will be interested enough in horror that this movie will act as a gateway to better scare fests.  I found it to be funny and dumb, but not boring (how can any film where “And Billy Zane” appears on screen be boring?).  If you love awkward moviegoing experiences, check it out before I Am Number Four, Gnomeo & Juliet, Just Go With It or whatever inane garbage coming out Friday usurps this magical moment in time—where a gaggle of studio executives sits crowded around a conference room table, blowing on the fresh ink of Christian E. Christiansen’s sterling sequel contract.

God bless The Roommate.

God bless America.

Saturday
Feb052011

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

The Last Action Comedy

Don’t ask me how I avoided watching Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for six years.  People tirelessly recommended it to me and I kept putting it off because, frankly, I had no interest in watching a pre-comeback Robert Downey Jr. movie—no matter how good it was supposed to be.  It’s an ugly prejudice, I know, but I feel the same way about RDJ as I do about The Indigo Girls.

Indulge me for a moment:

Years ago, I fell in love with the folk/rock duo’s greatest hits album, Retrospective.  There’s not a song on there that doesn’t touch my spirit or set my head to bopping.  After one listen to that collection, The Indigo Girls became one of my all-time favorite bands.

I love their music so much that I’ve never listened to another one of their songs.

Confused?  Yep, it’s strange behavior, all right, and it boils down to my fear that their other stuff might somehow not be as good; and that the potential lack of quality may sour how I feel about the tunes on Retrospective.

This silly block has seeped into my movie-watching habits, as evidenced by my hesitation to watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  In 2008, Downey blew up with the back-to-back smashes Iron Man and Tropic Thunder.  His charm, wit, and wicked sense of fun revitalized the unreliable superhero genre and made me believe that a rich, white Australian could play a jive-talking black soldier in Viet Nam.

Then came Iron Man 2 and Sherlock Holmes, films in which the actor parodied his own talents with indulgent performances that may have amused him, but which failed to wipe the bored scowl off my face for two-plus-hours apiece.  It was at about this time that my friends began imploring me to watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and though it makes no logical sense, I preferred to freeze RDJ in the amber of his Mark One armor and leave it at that.

I was such an idiot!  Kiss Kiss Bang Bang shot straight to my Top 25 list this morning; it’s the kind of exciting, hilarious, and surprising-at-every-turn Guy Movie I’ve been begging for.

It should be, as it was directed and co-written by Shane Black, who wrote the first two Lethal Weapon films, as well as The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero, and The Long Kiss Goodnight (what is it with this guy and “L” movies?).  Based on his filmography, you probably have a lot of assumptions about his latest action/comedy/thriller, but I assure you this movie is like nothing Black has been associated with.  It’s probably like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Yes, it takes place in the seedy underbelly of L.A.  Yes, its main characters are two opposites who dislike each other and squabble their way through accidentally solving a big murder case.  Yes, there are car chases and gunplay.

There’s also a deliciously hip self-awareness that begins with Robert Downey Jr.’s Harry Lockhart narrating the movie as a kind of audio commentary on his life, the movie, and the movie as a representation of his life.  Acting as the Hand of God, he rewinds the picture, slows it down, presents alternate scenarios, and dissects Action Movie clichés as they happen—sometimes excusing them, sometimes not.

Harry is a New York thief who stumbles into a movie audition one night while evading the cops.  He’s been shot, and a trigger-happy neighborhood woman likely killed his partner; Harry uses the shock and emotional rush to imbue his reading with a gritty authenticity that bowls over the producer and casting director.

He winds up in L.A. a few nights later, where he attends a pool party hosted by Hollywood mogul Harlan Dexter (Corbin Bernsen).  Here he meets a private detective named Perry (Val Kilmer) who acts as a crime consultant on movies, as well as Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), a failed actress and the subject of an unwanted sexual advance by one of the party’s attendees.

Forgive me for not delving further into the plot, except to say that Harry develops a romantic relationship with Harmony; a grouchily platonic one with Perry; and all three become involved in a complex murder plot surrounding Dexter’s family and fortune.  To give anything else away would be to cheat you out of a wild, twisty ride that revels in genre conventions while simultaneously laughing at and improving on them.

The key to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s success, besides the amazing cast—which I’ll get to in a minute—is Shane Black’s obsession with 1940s pulp novels.  Both Harry and Harmony grew up reading them, and as they navigate the film’s crazy underworld, you can see their minds making connections between the noir adventures of their youth and the very real menace of dumb thugs with guns and villains who think nothing of hooking up electrodes to a man’s testicles to get information.  Black’s dialogue pops with brief, witty exchanges that sound like a cross between Quentin Tarantino and Dashiel Hammett; unlike more recent attempts to inject hard-boiled sensibilities into a modern framework (like Brick and, to a lesser extent, Lucky Number Slevin), Black knows just where the line between believability and farce lies, and exactly how much to smudge it.

He also benefits from top-rate performances by actors that, in 2005, everyone had either written off or never heard of.  Robert Downey Jr. gives what I consider to be his finest performance, playing a noble, kind-hearted, criminal/fool.  He’s called upon to be both an action star and a stripped-bare, weeping mess, and I believed every second of it.  Downey was born to play this part; not just because of the gag involving a washed-up actor on a bender who winds up in a stranger’s apartment, but because the flawed but lovable Harry Lockhart is the perfect vessel through which the actor can prove to the world why he’s one of the most gifted of his generation.

I assume he would have done well even without a great love interest, but Michelle Monaghan forces him to master his game here.  Her Harmony is a sweet Midwest girl with a fucked-up past and no prospects, but she hides everything under thick layers of sensuality and confidence that the film enjoys peeling back (sometimes ripping back).  It disheartens me to see that Hollywood didn’t know what to do with such a revelatory actress besides package her in bullshit rom-com fare like Made of Honor and The Heartbreak Kid, or as the damsel-in-distress in Mission: Impossible III.  She’s so far above that nonsense in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang that I felt sorry for her after it was over (stupid, I know, but so is my Indigo Girls problem).

(And maybe it’s just me, but Monaghan looks and acts like a grown-up version of Emma Stone in this movie—which only compounded my angst.)

This brings us to Val Kilmer, whose character is the film’s one sore spot.  Actually, his character is awesome, but the way he’s treated from a writing standpoint made me uncomfortable.  Perry’s nickname is “Gay Perry”, for obvious reasons.  Kilmer doesn’t play him as a flamboyant caricature, but rather as a hard-nosed, over-confident detective—a gumshoe Han Solo.  My problem is that his sexuality keeps coming up in the form of endless gay jokes.  With the amount of childish attention given to Perry’s taste in partners, you’d think the movie was set in Kansas, not California.

Maybe it was Black’s inability to write a fully realized gay action hero after decades of writing straight ones; or perhaps he was trying to say something about the boneheaded treatment of gays in the types of Hollywood blockbusters on which he built his reputation—either way, the jabs come off as distracting and unwarranted, especially since there are zero scenes where Perry’s preference figures into the story in either specifically or tangentially.  As a character, Perry seems to have fun with all the ribbing, but I could recognize (either in his eyes or Kilmer’s) the same frustrated boredom as I had for the steady stream of queer jokes.

Besides that, the movie’s perfect.  From John Ottman’s jazzy 60s score to the post-climax twist that sheds new light on the previous hour-and-a-half without coming off as gimmicky, there’s nothing I don’t love about this movie.  It joins my pantheon of infinitely enjoyable crime masterpieces (of which The Usual Suspects and Out of Sight are also members).

So if you’ve never heard of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang—or if you have and never bothered to watch it because it came and went with little fanfare—I implore you to check it out.  You may just discover a new favorite.

I did, and now that this movie and its review are out of my system, I’m off to seek out early Indigo Girls on iTunes.

Friday
Feb042011

I Think We're Alone Now (2008)

Pop Creatures

I think we’re alone now.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone around.

I think we’re alone now.

The beating of our hearts is the only sound.

When you or I read these words—assuming we’re well-adjusted, pop-savvy people—we might think of Tiffany’s classic 80s ode to intimacy.

(Some of you might immediately think of Bill Hicks’ fantastic routine about Tiffany going down on Debbie Gibson.  But eventually you’ll work your way back to the song).

Yesterday morning I learned that there’s a small but very dedicated segment of society that views bubblegum lyrics not as filler for hummable tunes but as declarations of love.  Case in point, Jeff Deane Turner and Kelly McCormick, the stars of Sean Donnelly’s documentary, I Think We’re Alone Now.  Both people are roughly middle-aged adults with severely arrested development, who believe that their destinies are to marry Tiffany.

I almost typed “both men are”, but stopped myself short, because I can’t remember what Kelly prefers to be called.  You see, Kelly is a hermaphrodite, and I’ve never written about one before.  In the interest of brevity, I’ll refer to Kelly in male terms.

Kelly is thirty-eight, single, and lives in Colorado, where he runs obsessively and collects disability for a severe head injury he sustained as a teenager.  While in a coma, he had a vision of a kind and beautiful woman who guided him back to wellness.  The way he tells it, his sister had him listen to the titular Tiffany song just after he woke up, and he soon discovered that the singer was—literally—the girl of his dreams.  Thus began a lifelong, long-distance love affair (one-sided, of course).

Through the trials of high school and a confusing early adult life in which he chose to live as a woman without committing to a sex-change operation, Kelly clung to his beloved’s music—collecting CDs and taping pictures to the walls of his apartment; one particularly touching poster shows two women kissing, and Kelly drew arrows to a blank space below the picture, where he scrawled his name and Tiffany’s above the message, “This will happen very soon.”

Down in Santa Cruz, California lives Jeff.  He’s a very dear friend of Tiffany’s, and he can prove it with the dozen or so pictures they’ve taken together at conventions and concerts all over the country.  Jeff lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, which essentially means his mind is always on, always buzzing, and it doesn’t have time to trifle with social skills.  He also lives with mounds of garbage, as well as a yellow foam mattress pad that serves as—if I’m not mistaken—his favorite snack.

Jeff also tapes Tiffany memorabilia to his walls, but he takes his dedication nine thousand steps further by also tracking the exploits of Robert John Bardo, a Tiffany stalker who murdered television star Rebecca Schaeffer in 1989.  Jeff doesn’t see any connection between himself and Bardo, and even giggles when he reads an article on Tiffany stalkers aloud—because the author spelled his name right.

I’m not sure what Sean Donnelly’s aim was in making this movie—more to the point, I have no idea how he found these people.  There’s an eerie exploitive quality to I Think We’re Alone Now that made me sympathetic to the plight of the mentally ill while at the same time making me feel about as dignified as a corpse-raping pederast.  I’d like to say there’s an uplifting message or underlying theme here, but this movie’s a freak show, plain and simple.

For most of the film, which runs a scant 64 minutes (trust me, it feels like a full-length feature), I waited for either the characters or the director to give me hope that things would turn out well for these guys; but as we plow deeper into Jeff’s haywire mind, exploring his belief that he’s one of a handful of people in the world who sees behind the giant, fascist conspiracy that’s controlling us with sinister brain-waves; as we listen to Kelly justify his obsession in whining, crying, angry fits that make Kip Dynamite sound like George Clooney; it becomes clear that Donnelly doesn’t care about helping these people or making the audience sympathetic to their plight.

He’s just interested in making a real-life version of a Christopher Guest movie.  Indeed, there are several scenes where Jeff unwittingly channels Fred Willard’s Clueless, Pompous Dolt—as when he attends a porn convention where Tiffany is signing her issue of Playboy, and later tells his church group how he ministered to all the lost-but-very-cheery souls he encountered (“It’s a place where people go to make friends and renew friendships.”)

The plot thickens when Donnelly arranges for Jeff and Kelly to meet up in Vegas for a Tiffany concert.  It’s a perfect storm of awkwardness, and I couldn’t figure out if this was supposed to be funny—and, if so, who would laugh at it.  Like so many other scenes it felt constructed to pander to fans of uncomfortable humor.  I had flashbacks to Jesus Camp, a documentary about an Evangelical youth camp that made me so squeamish I called it the best horror movie of 2006.

I’ll leave aside the argument that once a filmmaker manipulates his subject in order to create a storyline, his or her film ceases to be a documentary.  To me, the more interesting questions concern Tiffany’s involvement in the movie.  Did she see it?  What does she think of it?  Does she find Jeff and Kelly to be indicative of her fan base?  Was it her decision to not allow any of her music to be used in the movie?

The music issue is big because I think the film is better off not having used her songs.  This isn’t a taste issue, but a narrative one.  In the Vegas concert footage, we see Kelly and Jeff dancing in a small club, waving their arms in worship of their faded pop goddess.  The score here is creepy and sad, and conveys the miles of distance between Tiffany’s heart and those of these two fans.  It’s the one facet of Donnelly’s scheme that feels genuine.

Despite all this negativity, I’m actually recommending I Think We’re Alone Now.  You may find it a great litmus test for determining where your humor/horror lines are drawn.  The way I’d heard the guys on The Nerdist Podcast discussing it the other day, I figured I was in for a kooky portrait of slightly deranged enthusiasts, not a journey into isolation and mental illness.  If so much of this movie hadn’t been played for laughs it could have been about something; instead we’re stuck on the celluloid freeway, rubbernecking a Special Ed bus engulfed in flames.