Saturday 27 April 2013

All American Zombie Drugs (2010)

Director: Alex Ballar
Stars: Beau Nelson, Wolfgang Weber, Susan Graham, Natalie Irby, Alex Ballar and Bobby Burkey

Unlike Wild Girl Waltz, a drug movie that really has nothing to do with drugs at all, All American Zombie Drugs revolves around them so completely that it's a rare scene that isn't laced with half a dozen different narcotics at least. As the narration points out as we begin, run of the mill drugs like weed and alcohol hardly got our lead characters, Sebastian and Vinny, through high school. Now they're grown up, at least in terms of age, their only regret is that it's harder to get quality drugs any more. They've done everything there is to do, to the degree that they even enjoy the crap that gets cut into the real stuff; they're both quietly partial to Drano. Yet the narrator also elevates them to a mythic level. They're 'modern day Van Goghs', he enthuses to us. They'll be remembered as heroes. Surely this is where the zombie side of the title comes into play. Either that or this is going to take a left turn into Hunter S Thompson territory. Neither happens.

Sebastian is an obvious and engaging lead. He begins the film stuck in a dream where he's an outrageously attired pimp daddy who can recover from an orgy for a threesome in ten minutes. He's so out of it that he humps everything in sight: pillows, couches, the guy sitting next to him. He only comes out of it when his long suffering girlfriend Kara pours dirty fishtank water into his mouth and even then we're not entirely sure. They don't have a particularly stable relationship, not least because she's continually pissed at him for having sex with other women in his dreams. Their own sex is terrible; either his narcolepsy kicks in at exactly the wrong moment or she gets weepy on acid, though she much prefers mushrooms. It's only the drugs that seem to hold them together. Through all this, Vinny is doing hits from his neverending bong on the couch. He lives with them, apparently, perhaps because he wandered in one day from school and never left.

The humour here isn't sophisticated, as you'd expect for a druggie film, but it is frequently funny with much of the joy lying in the performances. Beau Nelson plays Seb as a livewire, who spends more time humping things in this movie than most pornstars get to do. If he managed to avoid a slipped disc during filming, he's going to be very popular with the ladies who see the result of his work. As Vinny, Wolfgang Weber initially appears to be little more than a straight man for him to bounce off, but he soon acquires his own character moments. As Kara, Susan Graham is a punky hot girlfriend with a Debbie Harry feel who initially seems to be slumming it with Seb but quickly turns out to be a good match for him. These guys do acid like M&Ms; they subsist on such a wide range of drugs that their bodies must be toxic cocktails. It's amazing how little this life reflects in their looks but the three actors bounce very well off each other.
We do wonder where it's all going but a few seemingly disparate moments slowly coalesce into a story within this drug fuelled haze. Seb and Vinny are getting bored with it all, or at least with the drugs they've been doing lately. Everything is 'either an instant headache or death.' Seb's dream morphs into a commercial for a drug distribution company, the largest in America; gradually that idea seeps out into reality as the solution to the quality problems in their supply. However while Seb is dreaming, Vinny is hallucinating the ghost of someone who warns him against it. It doesn't help that when he drops acid at work he sees his unwilling boss, Kara's cousin, as a zombie, and his ghost joins those dots by highlighting that he's doing nothing in his life except the drugs, and thus is becoming a zombie himself. These subconscious hints tell us not only where the story is going to go but also how successful it's likely to be.

The final piece to the puzzle shows up after half an hour: a rich girl goth chick called Melissa who anchors the story thus far; Natalie Irby plays her with a professional Shannen Doherty vibe. She knew Kara briefly in school, bonded through drugs of course, and recently lost both her wealthy parents in a car accident. Kara sees their rekindled acquaintance as an opportunity for Melissa's inheritance to fund their new venture. She initially appears to be all business but she still snorts oxycodone and brings a surprising spiritual angle to the film. Vinny is on acid when she shows up and sees her as an angel, but when she does acid herself she thinks she's a demon. After some exploration of past baggage, she attempts a spiritual clearing on him and here's where we begin to discover the story behind Vinny's ghost. The writing appears to be slipshod and occasionally it is but there's structure here that keeps us moving forward, however many holes it has.

The biggest success of the film is the casting as there's a lot of chemistry between the characters. Yeah, I went there. Beau Nelson is a riot here. He's out there enough for it to not be surprising that he was in a Ross Patterson movie, Darnell Dawkins: Mouth Guitar Legend. It's more surprising that he was in both The Artist and Empress Vampire, two movies that couldn't be any more different if they tried. He's the only actor here who I've previously seen in a credited role, though I'm likely to see Bobby Burkey again soon in a local Arizona film that features a whole bunch of people I know. I was also impressed by Susan Graham and am now intrigued by a long short film she's just made called Quiet. Both she and Nelson are clearly people to watch. Rounding out the key cast, Natalie Irby easily appears the most confident actor on screen and Wolfgang Weber lives up to a part that ends up with a lot more substance than it initially seems to have.
Its biggest problem is that it's never quite sure if it wants to be a comedy or a serious picture. It does a lot better with the comedy, though it's never quite consistent there: it builds through its characters and their dialogue, then progresses to surreality and situation comedy, reaching farce by the finalé. I was surprised to find that the lead characters never lost my interest even though they're the precise sort of characters who usually do and there are many others in support with moments of their own to highlight. I especially found Bobby Burkey an underplayed joy as Spider, a small time dealer. Roughly speaking, the picture unfolds in three acts. The first is solid on the humour but short on the direction, the middle sees the direction arrive but the humour drop off, and the final act ratchets up the humour to ludicrous level in a whole bunch of different directions all at once. It's as if it decided to finally take the restraints off and live up to its title.

For all that it's mostly a comedy, I have a feeling that the real point of the film is its serious side, which arrives with a vengeance at the end. This ending doesn't quite appear out of nowhere, if you've been paying attention, but it still feels like it belongs in a different movie. The first time I saw this, it played like an anti-drug film that masquerades as a pro-drug film for 95 minutes of its 99 minute running time. Revisiting it a month later, it felt a little more consistent in its approach but the last couple of minutes still felt extraneous. I wonder what writer/director Alex Ballar, who not coincidentally plays a key supporting character, really thought he'd achieve with this film. If he was trying to send a message, it's likely to have been lost in the drug fuelled mix that he built so well. It would be a cruel irony if someone designed a drinking game for this picture but it's so well within the bounds of possibility that it would probably include more drugs than mere alcohol.

I wonder if the apparently conflicting messages, the underlying one from Ballar and the opposite one preached throughout by the characters he created, are the reason why it took so long to find a release. It was shot in 2010 in an impressively short ten days, then titled merely Zombie Drugs, but didn't get released on DVD until yesterday under its new title. Given that Amazon only have five left in stock, it seems to have found an audience but I don't know which one. The title alone would be enticing to a couple of audiences, who are likely to love 95 minutes but hate the last 4. I'm intrigued to see what feedback they leave at IMDb. It's possibile that druggies may love it in spite of the ending, but I'm guessing it will do better with indie film fans who aren't part of the drug scene. However they're less likely to see it because of the title and they're more likely to be as confused by the ending as I am. Only time will tell.

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