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Thursday, 12 April 2012

Kid Crimson and the Bearded Wonder (2010)

Director: Decker Slowey
Stars: Nicholas Giombi and Seth Blackstone

I'm finding microbudget cinema more fascinating as time goes by, as the ever decreasing entry cost into feature length moviemaking means that it's possible nowadays for people to spend next to no money on a picture and yet still have it turn out vaguely watchable. This one has the usual microbudget flaws: the sound is a little too quiet on occasion, some of the shots are a little dark and the music is a little inconsistent, but then the frickin' thing cost $6,000. That's a tenth of what Ed Wood spent making Plan 9 from Outer Space over half a century ago. Based on that comparison just making it through 112 minutes ought to be an achievement and it turns out to be a pleasure. Admittedly it's a flawed pleasure as it certainly could have benefitted from some more severe editing, but the acting isn't bad at all, ranging from decent amateur up to capable professional, there are some decent transitions and the setups are well thought out. It has a lot of promise.

The credits suggest something not far off a two man show, because the names of Nicholas Giombi and Decker Slowey are everywhere. Giombi was the director of photography, he composed music, assisted with editing, choreographed fights, designed special effects and wrote the story. Slowey wrote, directed, edited and produced, cast the film and edited the sound. Both were executive producers. If this really did only cost $6,000, and any claims along those lines can't help but bring back lessons learned from Joe Queenan's book, The Unkindest Cut: How a Hatchet-Man Critic Made His Own $7,000 Movie and Put It All on His Credit Card, then these guys are doing something very right. No, it doesn't look remotely like Transformers or Avatar, but let's thank the stars for that. The lack of budget is obvious, especially in the bit parts where actors are recycled frequently, but its heart is very much in the right place.

Giombi is also half of the title double act. He's the Crimson Kid, a surprisingly young assassin who wears shades because it's obvious that he dreams of being Tom Cruise and can't resist referencing movies at the drop of a hat. He's Snake Plissken. He's Alex Murphy. He won't say what his name really is, at least until he's about to die. He has a cute boss and he's willing to take on a two million dollar job to assassinate a priest. This probably wasn't intended to be a commentary on Hollywood but I couldn't take it any other way as he's the hip one of the pair. The Bearded Wonder is Brother Breaker, a hitman for the church, of all things, who is hired by his archbishop to take care of some zombies. The church dresses it up as 'necrotic reanimation', but there's something unholy going on and they want to shoot it in the head. He and his initial partner Agent Oliver are God's weapons. 'Go with Christ, my son,' his bishop tells him, 'Give those heathens Hell, boy!'

So the Crimson Kid is Hollywood hip and the Bearded Wonder is on a mission from God. They end up together because Agent Oliver was the Kid's target but is turned into a zombie before he can even locate him. It's an interesting setup, ambitious enough to add a strange opening sequence pitting a young boy against a blurred man that naturally comes back later to add some irony, but the style trumps the substance. The dialogue is good, notably so for a microbudget film, though the delivery can't live up to it throughout, Giombi having more skill behind the camera than in front of it, at least at this point in his young career. Luckily he's partnered with Seth Blackstone, who is a surprising gem. As the Crimson Kid is cool, the Bearded Wonder is uncool, so much so that when he's taken down by a tranquiliser dart, Agent Oliver can't even move him because he's not a small man. The obvious comparison is to Jay and Silent Bob but I hate those guys.
The mismatched buddy movie framework is a good one. The Crimson Kid is all about style and movie references, the Bearded Wonder is all about efficiency and God. The Kid is introduced to us through a sniper hit from a rooftop in which he's half Tom Cruise and half Chow Yun Fat. Brother Breaker shows his skill in spaghetti western style, more like a serious Bud Spencer, shooting the card of Judas from out of the hand of his assistant: six shots, all through the head. Blackstone, who also served as chief grip, firearms expert and assistant DP, has much better delivery than Giombi but his voice is sometimes a little too quiet. Blackstone gets the better lines, but the Kid thinks he does and he acts accordingly. 'I'm trying real hard to ignore all the nuggets of morondom that come out of your mouth,' Brother Breaker tells him. Later he clarifies: 'Get this straight. We aren't friends. We never have been. I'm a man of Christ and you're a jerkoff.'

All this is proof that Silent Bob is just too damn silent. If he'd conjured up lines like these at the end of Clerks, we could have missed out on a lot of pain. Fortunately Blackstone doesn't stay silent and he proves to be a fascinating actor to watch. There are clumsy points here, inconsistencies of tone and oration, but he's hardly expecting to pick up an Oscar. He has the potential to succeed on the lines of someone like Bruce Campbell: he has the voice, he just has to develop the charisma and if he can live up to that, there could be a couple of decades of interesting genre material ahead. He's far more interesting to watch than Giombi, who is patently too young for his part and would be far better as an acting coach than an actor. The Kid is fun mostly because of his charm, the Bearded Wonder because of depth. He wants to be a good guy, to stop the bad guys, but he isn't really sure which side he's actually on. He wants a black and white world, where concessions aren't needed.

While the film eventually falls down through being too long and too ambitious for its budget, it does a lot very right. I love the way the filmmakers play with movie clichés, to the degree that I'm not sure whether some things are goofs or deliberate errors. When the Kid introduces himself to Brother Breaker as either Kid Crimson or a used tampon, it's because he has a white suit jacket that has been half drenched in blood after he rode his motorbike into a deer. The bloodstains periodically change side. Was this deliberate or am I just reading too much into the filmmakers' obvious love of cheesy movies? The bad guy organisation is called Hades and I can't help but imagine that being an acronym, though no full name is given. The machine gun effects are right out of Bad Taste and some of the comedy too, which is a sure way to reach my heart, though it's not done with quite as much panache. Some of the shots are even phrased from the same angles.

Another success is the zombies. Without the budget for quality zombie make up, the effects guys are forced to switch to imagination instead. As a fresh zombie, Agent Oliver looks like he's been drenched in oil. The first batch of attacking zombies include Santa Claus, a mummy and a guy in a Nazi helmet. Later there are zombies in balaclavas. The leader is Jackson Liedl playing Maestro the mummy, and he goes joyously over the top with his lines. He could easily be a Saturday morning cartoon villain with dialogue like 'Dance, my puppets! Play my symphony of death!' As our heroes take down zombies with atomic leg drops and Maestro pronounces, 'I love the smell of carnage in the morning,' we're either going to be laughing or crying. I moved from the latter to the former by the boss battle finalé. This is fun stuff and I wish it all the best. However I'm looking forward to the next film these guys come up with even more.

Since my review, the folks behind Kid Crimson and the Bearded Wonder have reedited the film and made it available to watch for free at their website. Watch through the trailer for their next feature, Lion in the Rubble and it'll appear.

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