The fun of watching tons of DVDs is checking out smaller, unknown films. Sometimes I pop in a movie I’ve never heard of and go, “What tha…?!”–either because it’s not what I thought it would be (for better or worse), or because even when I’m done with it, I’m still not sure what I just saw.
So in the interest of “the more you know” (and managed expectations), every now and then I round up a few of them for you.
Full disclosure, sometimes even I glance at a DVD cover and toss it in the “maybe someday” pile. As I did with this one–the box prominently features Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, and as he’s in a lot of direct-to-video titles lately, I thought this was another cheap throwaway. Oops, wrong. In fact it’s a tight, entertaining little British crime flick very much in the Guy Ritchie Lock, Stock and Snatch genre. The story follows the engaging Tamer Hassan as a reformed London criminal on a desperate all-night quest to earn enough to pay off his debt to Fiddy (in a small supporting role as a gangster). While it’s very much a gangster-crime flick, Dead Man Running has a jaunty, fun vibe (though not quite as hyperkinetic as Ritchie’s films), and Hassan (a Liev Schrieber-Vinnie Jones hybrid) could move up from playing nameless thugs to more Statham-like starring roles. Low-budget? Maybe. But far from a “throwaway,” Dead Man Running is a pleasant surprise for fans of British crime cinema.
This indie comedy about a caddish dolt (Patrick Wilson) who loses his, uh, jewels in a freak accident is from the Tony-nominated writer of the Rock of Ages Broadway musical. All the very familiar indie comedy quirks are here, as is the usual hit-and-miss quirky indie laugh ratio. But what’s also here is Wilson and the always, always wonderful Judy Greer, as the off-beat woman who claims Barry drunkenly impregnated her prior to his mishap. Wilson (who first floored me in HBO’s Angels in America) has been slowly building a B-list name for himself in movies like The Watchmen, Morning Glory, and The A-Team, but it’s nice to see his indie cred is still in good standing. Barry Munday also benefits from a supporting cast that includes Chloë Sevigny, Cybill Shepherd, Malcolm McDowell, Billy Dee Williams, Emily Procter, and Colin Hanks.
Aaand here’s where it gets tricky… This is the latest film to be hauled out of the indie bin and repackaged and renamed (it was originally titled Little Fish, Strange Pond) to cash in on Zach Galifianakis’ new-found fame. (He’s on screen for about 10 minutes.) I’ve seen it, and I’m still not sure I can describe it. Directed by Gregory Dark (the former “arty adult” director who made tons of soft-core Skinemax flicks in the ’90s), this is definitely a dark, dark “comedy” in the Tarantino vein. Frenemy follows two skeevy guys (Callum Blue and Matthew Modine, who also produced it) wandering the streets, porn shops and brothels of LA, engaging in philosophical mind-twist gibberish… and murder. Naturally they eventually end up on a Springer-style talk show. Frenemy is one of those deeply odd films I halfway admire for going waaay out there, but fans of wacky Galifianakis Hangover shenanigans take warning: this ain’t that.
In recent years the WWE has moved into feature narrative films, usually starring a ring personality such as Kane in the horror flick See No Evil and John Cena in fun, gritty little actioners like The Marine, 12 Rounds, and most recently the much sweeter coming-of-age drama Legendary. Knucklehead is the WWE’s venture into road-trip comedy: Wrestler The Big Show is a good-hearted, thick-headed, gentle giant who sets out with Royal Pains‘ Mark Feuerstein and The Office‘s Melora Hardin to, of course, raise enough money wrasslin’ to save an orphanage. Think of it as a more family-friendly (though still PG-13) riff on Kingpin. Knucklehead isn’t going to redefine “comedy” as we know it, but Feuerstein and Hardin are likable performers with decent chemistry, and The Big Show plays the hulking, luvable lunk just fine. All of which makes Knucklehead surprisingly watchable (if not entirely necessary).