Thursday 13 November 2014

Rigged (2014)

Director: Shawn Esplin
Stars: Suzanne Brown, Brighton Weick, Aly Graham, Russel Traher, Pat Kaye, Allison Beauchamp, Dell Herts and Jim McElleney
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
This film was a submission to one of the IFP Phoenix film challenges in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 submissions.
I always find myself wanting to like Shawn Esplin's IFP Phoenix film challenge entries more than I actually do, mostly because what I appreciate most are his ideas, which tend to outweigh how they're brought to life. I liked the idea behind Shiny but it was too long and too detached, even if Todd Isaac played a neatly quirky sort of Gollum. I liked the idea behind Escape from Zany's Baking Company, probably my favourite of his films thus far, but it was too obvious. I even liked the idea behind Smiling, even if that was about all I did like in that film. I like the idea behind Rigged even more than any of those, not merely the basic idea but how he expanded on it to riff on sports films, detective films, comedies and thrillers all in one. I liked how he played it straight, however outrageous the double entendres. I liked the choice of game, spinning up a corruption scandal in the world of senior bingo. What I hated here was the acting, which is about as wooden as I've seen, enough so that I wondered if it could have been deliberate.

It's much better on the technical side, except for inconsistent sound. Esplin sets the scene quickly with a clandestine action in the dark as a young man passes a set of bingo balls to the local caller. He's kept in the shadows, but she's immediately memorable with huge earrings, long string of pearls and a salacious line to read. 'Don't worry, sweet cheeks,' she suggests. 'I'll be pulling out your balls any chance I get.' It's well lit, so that we see the characters and the bag of balls well but absolutely nothing else. But then we switch to the game itself and a host of regulars bemoaning the magical lucky streak of the young man at the back with performances so wooden that I was almost surprised when the actors moved. Perhaps the idea is that these seniors are merely old and tired and fed up with losing but I don't buy that. Maybe the character investigating the improbabilities for cheating speaks low and monotone to fit into a hardboiled detective state of mind. Whatever, the cast are mostly so devoid of emotion that everything falls flat.

I should add the caveats that Pat Kaye acquits herself strongly, as always, as one of the bitterest players, and Suzanne Brown certainly has her moments as the caller, though she's a little overt, but they merely highlight how far everyone else lowers the standard. What's most frustrating is that the dialogue they're given is otherwise sparkling and worthy of strong delivery. In fact, much of what sits behind the actors is rather good, especially for something with no budget. I liked the little details, like Leonard's hat and tie and Mildred's granddaughter's phone. I liked the background rumble of voices and the score. I liked the detective's glances and the shadows in the line up scene. I liked the Commissioner's speech, which did raise the acting at least one notch. Had the acting been up to the other aspects, it would have had a chance at more than just the Audience Favourite award at the Breakout Challenge in February, which is what took it to the Phoenix Film Festival.

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