November 10th, 2014

SHOTGUN GARFUNKEL (2013) **

Shotgun Garfunkel was written, shot, edited and screened in an amazing ten days. According to the DVD box, that’s a world record. Sometimes though, the quickest way isn’t necessarily the best.

The film explores the various ups and downs of a group of thirty-something friends in Johannesburg. Like many of its low budget independent American counterparts, the characters are more or less slackers and/or underachievers wondering about their place in life. Along the way, the flick makes some decent points about relationships, but nothing especially revelatory or moving happens.

Basically, the flick just boils down to a bunch of scenes where the friends drink, play board games, talk about relationships, and drink some more. After a decent first half hour, it more or less settles into a predictable pattern (sometimes they get drunk and yammer on and on at home; sometimes it’s at a nightclub) and it never exactly comes to life.

None of the couples’ random musings are exactly laugh out loud funny, although I did like the bit about Murder She Wrote. Also, some of the cast’s South African accents are so thick that it ruins many of the punchlines. The good news is that the material is written and acted sincerely enough, and because of their earnestness and conviction, it’s easy to overlook many of the film’s budgetary (and time) constraints.

Shotgun Garfunkel is available now at www.cinemaepoch.com.

BATTLE B-BOY (2014) ** ½

Battle B-Boy is You Got Served Meets Lionheart. It’s all about the underground world of “Da-Fi”, also known as “Dance Fighting”. This concept had the potential to be a total cheese-fest. Thanks to the savvy of director Frank Lin, and the energetic performances, it was way better than I was expecting. I’m not saying it was great or anything, but it definitely “Da-Fied” my expectations.

The plot is simple. Mike (Jae Phan) and his friends are barely eking out a living dancing in animal costumes at birthday parties. When Mike’s dad needs heart surgery, he journeys into the world of “Da-Fi” to make the money necessary for the operation.

All of this is clichéd to be sure, but what surprised me the most was that nearly all the actors are likeable and charismatic. The script is actually funny and spends time establishing the characters. The various rule changes during the fights (they need to dance-fight to the beat or run the risk of being disqualified) are pretty inventive too. It also delivers on all of the montages and fight scenes you’d want to see from the genre, as well as enough goofy moments (like the guy whose dance is “The Robot”) to keep you amused.

While all of this is pretty entertaining for the most part, the fights do get a bit repetitive after a while. After about an hour, it pretty much runs out of steam, and it’s clearly about 20 minutes longer than it really needed to be. Still, there are enough good moments here to make it semi-recommended for fight movie fans.

Best dialogue exchange:

“Are you still mad at me?”

“Is Buddha a fat ass?”

Battle B-Boy is available now at www.cinemaepoch.com.

CRACKERJACK (1994) ** ½

Thomas Ian Griffith stars as Jack Wild, a cop on the edge. How on the edge is he? He pulls a gun on his family when they throw him a surprise birthday party!

After that incident, they decide he needs a little R & R. They book him a vacation at a mountain resort where he gets to flirt a bit with the sexy activities director, played by Natassja Kinski. Of course, it doesn’t take long before a bunch of terrorists headed by Christopher Plummer take the place hostage. Naturally, Jack is the only one who can save the day.

Crackerjack is yet another Die Hard in a ______ movie. Since I’m a fan of the subgenre and a staunch supporter of Thomas Ian Griffith, it went down pretty smooth. He gets some good moments (I liked the part where he pretended to be drunk to fool a terrorist) and also gets a lot of cheesy/funny one-liners like, “Hang in there!” and “Crackerjack is back!” that adds to the fun.

The film definitely has its highlights, but it also takes much too long getting going. The rigmarole involving Griffith’s dead wife and kids takes up a lot of screen time and it feels like forever before the resort gets taken hostage. Doldrums also set in during the third act once Griffith starts playing cat and mouse with Plummer (sporting a funny accent). Also, Plummer’s plan is pretty farfetched (he’s trying to kill a big time mobster and make it look like an accident by purposefully causing an avalanche and wiping out the whole resort), especially for the subgenre’s standards.

Two Griffith-less sequels, Hostage Train (with Judge Reinhold) and Crackerjack 3 (with Bo Svenson) followed.