Saturday, July 25, 2015

Beerly Departed

Year: 2015
Director: Tomm Jacobsen, Michael Rousselet, Jon Salmon
Cast: Alec Owen, Patton Oswalt, Greg Sestero
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: N/A

In the interest of full disclosure, it might benefit you to know that I donated to the Kickstarter to bring Dude Bro Party Massacre III into this world, and if you believe that this will bias my review, so be it. Also in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I didn’t like the movie very much. I have nobody to blame but myself.

A little bit of background: 5-Second Films is a YouTube comedy group that – for a period of several years – released a short comedy video every single weekday. It was an exercise in bite-sized Internet absurdism, sometimes clunky, sometimes gut-splittingly hilarious. Over time they began to attract the attention of other famous personalities, and they’ve worked with people as varied as BriTANick, TomSka, Weird Al Yankovic, Larry King, and Patton Oswalt.

One of their videos, a short slasher parody about a bunch of exaggerated frat guys, eventually expanded into a full parody trailer. From there they got the idea to make their very first feature film: a full-scale slasher parody ostensibly recorded from a lost midnight movie broadcast in 1989. They’re not the first to have this sort of idea.

Slasher parodies have been attempted before, to varying degrees of success: One of the very first, 1981’s Student Bodies, is a shrill, sophomoric effort, but where it goes right is in skewering the already hoary tropes of the nascent subgenre: overuse of holidays and anniversaries, virginal Final Girls, and desperately gimmicky kills. The 1996 satire Scream perfected this angle, tossing teens who knew the genre inside and out into a typical slasher scenario. And the mockumentary Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon flipped to script to terrific effect, showing how a wannabe killer manipulates the scenario to create his own movie. On the other hand, where flicks like Scary Movie and its endless bevy of sequels failed lies in an overreliance on cheap pot gags and pop culture references so instantly dated that they even make the Baha Men roll their eyes. This same fate befell films likes Shriek if You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th and a host of other pseudo-comic bandwagoners.

In short, a slasher parody can be successful, but only to the degree to which it actually genuinely engages with the material it’s parodying. That requires research. That requires dedication. That requires focus. That requires…

More than five seconds.

DBPMIII tells the story of the Delta Bi fraternity, which has survived two previous attacks from Motherface (Olivia Taylor Dudley, known for such classy horror titles as Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Chernobyl Diaries), a hideously burned house mother, and her revenge-seeking daughter. Now somebody else has donned the Motherface mask and slit the throat of the only survivor of the two previous massacres, Brock (Alec Owen). His twin brother Brent (Alec Own) arrives on campus to infiltrate the Delta Bi’s – led by the handsome and totally not too old Derek (Greg Sestero of The Room) – and solve his brother’s murder while the frat parties it up at the old sorority house by the lake.

Meanwhile, the Police Chief (Patton Oswalt – somebody bake this guy some cookies, he’s a damn good friend for agreeing to be in this) sends the nerdy Officer Sminkle (Brian Firenzi) to the lake as a virgin sacrifice to end Motherface’s rampage on the pretense that the Delta Bi’s are secretly bags of oranges and that by bopping them on the nose he can return them to their true form and end Chico’s orange crisis. …Yeah.

I paid for this movie.

I suppose it was probably too much to ask that the guys who do five second online videos make a masterpiece 90 minute feature right out of the gate. That’s be like asking a fortune cookie writer to pen the next great American novel. Or asking Michael Bay to make a movie that passes the Bechdel test. But much like their YouTube channel, it hits as often as it misses. DBPMIII is full to the brim with zany experimentation and cinematic risk-taking like no comedy I’ve ever seen, and I wouldn’t trade that sense of gung-ho adventure for the world, but I dearly wish the results were more coherent.

I mean, really? Bags of oranges?

It’s an immensely frustrating film, and a pristine example of Newton’s Third Law of Film Comedies: For every great joke, there is an equal and opposite sucking turd: For every moment that toys with the mechanics of film in an interesting, clever way, there’s a dancing attic robot. For every opening montage that deftly summarizes an infinitely gorier, more hilarious slasher flick that supposedly came before, there’s a bag of oranges. And then the film finally has the f**king audacity to turn its goddamn orange gag into one of the best postmodern surrealist jokes of the entire godforsaken affair and I weep bloody tears of sheer hubris.

God help us all.

The biggest issue with Dude Bro Party Massacre III is that it has no identity. Is it an 80’s slasher parody? Or is it an absurdist Internet comedy film? Being both is not an option. The eras are mutually exclusive. So the film drifts by in a flux of indecision, dipping a toe here and there where it sees fit. I’ve already splanted my flag in support of films that embrace their slasher leanings, and this one is no different. When DBPMIII is operating at its unequivocal best is when it’s wholeheartedly engaging with the genre, like a pan-searingly funny gag poking fun at ominously foreshadowing song lyrics. And the film is at its spoon-gagging worst when it forays into the broad, spasmodic realm of online humor, from whence crawls the film’s most abhorrent character, the beer-crazed party boy who’s so unfunny he sucks the fillings right out of your teeth.

Unfortunately – funny or not – the entire film is unforgivably marred by a flabby second act which is a full, deathless slog populated by an endless parade of useless character moments. Which, ironically, is the single thing that it has most in common with the average 80’s slasher.

At the end of the day, Dude Bro Party Massacre III is not an unfunny film. At any rate, I’d toss it a couple extra points just for an out-of-the-blue Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead reference. But watching it is like panning for gold. To find your nuggets, you have to sift through the silt, and there’s just so damn much of it.

TL;DR: Dude Bro Party Massacre III has its moments, but its attention span is too poor to sustain the hilarity.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1135

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