Copyright : Artisan 1998
Submitted by Onionhead
Starring Dan Clark, DawnMarie Velasquez, Dave Pressler, Dan Lake.
Written and directed by Dan Clark
Alex: Self-appointed leader of a group of thugs chosen to receive The Item. Bad hair, bad beard, bad attitude.
Lauren: Requisite female heavy. As ruthless as she is hot. Don’t get between her and her reward money--or her pistol.
Martin: Pretty deep character for a film this bad. A thug with a loving wife and children--how novel.
Fatty: Misunderstood morbidly obese family man--his kids are afraid of him. Martin suggests they are afraid he’ll sit on them.
Rita: Alex’s girlfriend “artist”--oops, excuse me, “art student.” I use the term “artist” loosely.
The Item: A sock puppet (I kid you not) crossed with a sex toy. (Again I kid you not)
************HERE THERE BE SPOILERS**********
As I understand the Sundance Film Festival, it offers independent filmmakers an arena to showcase their movies that they otherwise may not get, and frequently provides wide distribution of films that deserve better than to sit collecting dust on video rental shelves or, worse, up in the director's private closets. Many of these pictures are labors of love, desperate attempts at recognition, or last-ditch efforts to save a once-bright career that has hit the toilet seat. Others should never have seen the light of day . . .
Dan Clark's 1998 film, The Item, apparently wowed audiences at that year's festival. Boxoffice Magazine claims it was "A groundbreaker."
Must have been a pretty skimpy year.
Clark also wrote and stars in this, and to tell the truth, he ought to stick with one or the other. Or neither--the whole thing sucks.
Mind you, I normally have no problem with low-budget, indies--some of my all-time favorite films have been of this ilk. Night of the Living Dead, The Evil Dead, Equinox, Texas Chain Saw Massacre have all sprung from dirt and are all on my private shelf. The Blair Witch Project was produced from pennies and rose to audience and critical acclaim. Such instances, however, are not the norm, because many of the films featured at any given Sundance don't rise from obscurity; and even the hidden gems can't find a market and fall by the wayside.
Too bad it didn't happen with this film; oh, God, my eyes begin bleeding just remembering it . . .
We have four felons--Alex (Clark), Lauren (DawnMarie Velasquez), Martin (Dave Pressler), and Fatty (Dan Lake)-- who have gathered together on a lonesome stretch of highway--summoned by some internet incognito source to obtain an unspecified package and safeguard it in return for some untold fortune. They are met by the wild-haired Dr Ody, who gives them specific instructions on caring and emergency procedure involving the contents of a large security-sealed box. At the point of turning the package over to its intended keepers, Ody reneges, deciding to keep the package for himself. He is dispatched with, along with his nurse companion, in a hail of bullet and artificial blood. It should be noted that the guns are whipped out with an accompanying "whoosh" effect--ha ha the first time, but it occurs every time a gun is pulled out in the film, and the joke wears thin pretty fast.
Anyway, our heroes (?) head to their hideout with their take. This happens to be the apartment of Alex's artist--oops, excuse me, “art student”--girlfriend Rita (Judy Jean Kwon), who has a taste for decapitated baby dolls wrapped in baling wire and mounted on the wall. I don't claim to know much about art, but I know that ain't it. The opening credits role, in fact, over the construction of one of these "masterpieces." Blech.
Curiosity gets the better of our friends, who open the box and reveal a creature that seems to be a cross between a sock puppet and a dildo with sewn-on-eyes. The sock-puppet-dildo proves intelligent and possessed of a silver tongue, and it uses this to wear down the tough-as-nails veneer of each of our friends, to the point where they one by one blow each other away--Fatty reveals his warped childhood, and is aerated by Alex; Martin is plugged by one of Rita’s art school friends, who is subsequently plugged in turn by the increasingly unappealing Alex, who is then ventilated by Lauren, who then makes a desperate move to save her film career by fleeing the apartment--until only Rita is left with it.
What does one do with a sock-puppet-dildo with a silver tongue? Well, this isn't rated R for just the violence. Rita and the Item do the wild thing, with Rita peaking and barking out a laugh at the very end that I think is supposed to indicate her getting the joke of the whole movie. I, however, didn't get it.
This is truly terrible; I watched this thing for the most part with my dinner threatening to make a reappearance--and yet I want to admire it. Certainly there aspects worthy of something resembling praise. The story is ridiculous, but it seems meant that way. The violence is over the top and reminiscent of Tarentino, but a little goes a long way. The flick is polluted with pointless obscenities. The creature is stupid, stupid, stupid. The special effects are anything but. At one point the group is interrupted by a troupe of Rita's art school friends--gay transvestites, no less; they prance in high-heels, giggle fitfully, scream in terror, bawl their eyes out. Funny? No. Stereotypes? Yes. Offensive? Yes. The chase scene that ensues is intended as comical, but ultimately falls flat. Everybody glides by on unseen trolleys down the alleyways-ha ha. Guns are fired with seemingly inexhaustible supplies of bullets--ha ha.
There truly is no explanation as to what the Item is, and I frankly didn't care. There is a lot of artsy-fartsy exposition here and there, and to be honest if a filmmaker is trying to be clever with tricks like artsy-fartsy dialogue and uber-cool camera angles and lighting, he/she loses me. Smart-ass isn't smart, it's just smarmy.
Performances are about what you'd expect for a film of this budget--of note, however, are Velasquez and Pressler, who bring more depth to the roles than normal. Velasquez's Lauren is as nails-tough as she is gorgeous, and reveals an inner sensitivity that a lesser actress would present as maudlin. Pressler's Martin has a hidden past that shapes his outer reactions to events and his emotions toward the group's self-elected leader Alex (my favorite part of this travesty follows Fatty‘s execution by Alex, as Martin smacks him repeatedly in the face with a frying pan), and Pressler is actually very good here. I checked his listings on IMDB.com and was surprised to find out how limited his roles have been. This guy deserves more exposure. Clark and Lake try gamely at their respective roles, but aren't up to the talents of the other two leads. Alex is an obvious sadist, but Clark can't present anything deeper about him, even at the end, so his demise brings about nothing more sympathetic from me than a yawn and an "Okay, so?" Judy Jean Kwon can't act for poop--I kept waiting for Rita to step too far out of line and get wasted, but such was not my reward. The rest of the cast--from Ody and his assistant to the transvestites--are forgettable.
I picked this up on VHS at a thrift store for a buck. Sometimes you get what you pay for. Sometimes you want your money back. I was duped, as I have before, by the cover art that depicted a baleful reptilian eye staring out from the peephole of a reinforced steel box. You think I'd learn by now. Maybe I'll give this one another chance on an empty stomach, and maybe I'll appreciate what Clark was trying to do, taking into account his limited budget and limited imagination. Then again, maybe I'll stick a red-hot fireplace poker deep into my ear.
You don’t need talent to express yourself artistically--just a blowtorch and a Barbie doll
The magazines of semi-automatic weapons hold at least between sixty to seventy rounds apiece
Sock puppet sex toys are masters of manipulation
You really don’t get much for a buck these days--sometimes you get absolutely zilch
STUFF TO WATCH FOR
5 minutes Dr Ody, master of light and Lycra
10 minutes Gobbledy-gook, techno-crap. Get on with the movie!
16 minutes Art? Er . . .yeah, sure
25-35 minutes The aforementioned transvestite trolley-chase scene.
48 minutes Don’t look at the clock, don’t look at--OH MY GOD, IT’S ONLY HALF-OVER!!
60 minutes RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST A DEAD FAT BAD GUY’S HEAD!
80 minutes Will you die already?!
85 minutes No, not with a sock-puppet sex toy! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeew!!
93 minutes The closing credits!!!!! Oh my god, I survived!!!!!
Martin: “Where’s the monkey, Alex? I want the monkey! You promised us a monkey!”
Lauren: “Oh, god, not in the Lincoln.”
Lauren: “She’s got a knife!”
Fatty: “TURN OFF THE LIGHT! TURN OFF THE LIGHT!”
Alex: “Did somebody forget to KILL SOMEBODY?”