LAFF 2007: Bluey, Da Ba Dee Da Ba Dah

Raise your hand if you thought Gavin Rossdale of Bush could be a decent actor. Or a decent anything. Yeah, he got his face melted in Constantine, but that proved nothing.

But Mr. Gwen Stefani really shows something in HOW TO ROB A BANK, as a pill-popping criminal named Simon (after Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran, as it turns out), who apparently didn’t get the memo that “LOVE” and “HATE” tattoos on the fingers went out of style years ago (as per his own lyrics, "love and hate, get it wrong"). Simon is the principal bank robber of the title, whose plans are derailed slightly when a pissed-off, Hobbit-looking good-for-nothing named Jinx (Nick Stahl) gets himself locked in the bank vault during the heist, alongside Simon’s associate Jessica (Erika Christensen). The story that ensues is a four-way stand-off among Jinx and Jessica in the vault, Simon and his armed thugs in the bank, flustered Officer DeGepse (Terry Crews) and his cops outside, and a mysterious man on the other end of Erika’s phone named Nick (voice of David Carradine).

Writer-director Andrews Jenkins dedicated this film to anyone who has ever been pissed off about paying a $1.50 surcharge for withdrawing your own money from an ATM. Jinx is in the bank because he wants to withdraw $20 but doesn’t have enough in his account to cover the surcharge, and the money being stolen is from an account made up of all those minor surcharges, accumulated to the amount of several million bucks. Adding to the digital-age frustrations, there are lots of bits involving cell phones not working properly. It isn’t a 100% realistic heist movie -- there’s a lot of comedy and ironic dialogue, though Crews is more serious than usual, which is a nice change from his standard shtick of being the big sex-crazed muscleman with a secret wimpy side. The way he yells some of his lines makes me think he’s emulating Sam Jackson, which isn’t a bad thing.

The main reason I was drawn to this film was the trailer that showed Erika Christensen doing that thing where a conventionally beautiful actress dyes her hair jet-black and puts on glasses to try and look smart -- I find that totally hot, if not especially convincing. But that’s just the opening scene, and my attention was held afterwards by the smartness of the script and the direction; a lot is done here with a mere three locations. Only complaint is that the climax happens a little too fast and confusingly.

It should be a modest hit in theaters, at any rate, as should KABLUEY, a comedy written/directed by and starring Scott Prendergast, a Groundlings alumnus and former writer for MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch. I usually want to stay far away from any new indie movie where the writer-director casts himself in the main role (thanks, Edward Burns), but this is a glorious exception -- Prendergast, unlike some, doesn’t feel the need to make himself a romantic lead.

Kabluey is in many ways the prototypical “art-house” comedy -- it costars Lisa Kudrow (and will appeal most to those who liked her in The Opposite of Sex and Happy Endings) and a few other names you know from TV or supporting roles in bigger things, it eschews typical platitudes about families by having them be truly nasty to each other at times, it’s set in some unspecified and weird small town, and features odd poignancy while celebrating genuine eccentrics.

One demerit, though, for using Pee-wee’s Big Adventure music to score a particularly manic scene. I realize it’s probably intended as a tribute to a fellow Groundling, but using the score from another, more familiar movie to create a certain mood is a cheap tactic that should only be used with specific satirical purpose. Incidentally, there’s a scene in Transformers that uses Kill Bill music, but it works because it involves Bumblebee getting a makeover that looks not unlike Uma Thurman’s yellow jumpsuit, though admittedly said jumpsuit was in turn a reference to an older Bruce Lee movie (this postmodernism is exhausting!).

So what’s the story? Kudrow plays Leslie, a character based on Prendergast’s actual sister-in-law, whose husband is off to fight in Iraq, leaving her alone with two monstrous little children who like to run around the house screaming and smashing things with plastic baseball bats. In desperation, she calls on her brother-in-law Salman (Prendergast), who’s good-hearted but a bit of a helpless case, begs him to babysit while she works, but fails to give him any kind of instruction as to how to handle the brats, who take an instant dislike to Salman and start plotting his murder, at one point pouring kitchen cleaner into his mouth while he sleeps.

Leslie quickly tires of Salman’s inability to be much help, but she hooks him up with a job so he can make himself useful. A failing dot-com company called BlueNeXion is looking to rent out its old office space, and Salman’s job is to dress up as company mascot “Kabluey” (basically a more amorphous, blue version of Marvin the android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and hand out fliers to random motorists who drive by on a road in the middle of nowhere. Not the greatest business plan in the world.

But in a small town, anything odd quickly becomes an item of fascination, and Kabluey becomes popular in a way that Salman isn’t. The full-body-suit also allows him to hear and see things he isn’t supposed to know about.

The movie’s hilarious, in a similar vein to something like Napoleon Dynamite without being in any way a clone or a rip-off of same. Prendergast is clearly a force to be reckoned with -- his fearless performance as Salman/Kabluey is a thing of beauty, and his sense of story and humor are note-perfect. Let’s see how he follows this one up. Huge buzz on this thing so far, as the second screening, during the middle of the day, was a sell-out show.

Kudrow, needless to say, continues to prove she’s by far the coolest of the ex-Friends.

Since every good drink needs a chaser, the perfect way to round out Thursday night was DYNAMITE WARRIOR, an old-fashioned-style kung-fu movie from Thailand that, frankly, is way more fun than any of Tony Jaa’s overly moralistic tales. In 1910 Thailand, an evil warlord seeks to make big profits in the tractor business by stealing all the local buffalo to force the farmers to buy the new-fangled machines...but standing in his way is a cowboy with a mastery of dynamite-enhanced firecrackers, one of which he can even ride on, Wile E. Coyote style. Of course, the villain also has an evil wizard to help him out.

That’s really all you need to know, and all you will know while watching the thing. I know we’ve all thought to ourselves at some point that kung-fu movies could use a bunch of dynamite firecrackers, and now that dream has been perfectly realized.


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