Every once in a while, PR firms for very small independent film studios specializing in straight-to-2 a.m. — on-Cinemax fare get it in their heads that a review from Pajiba will somehow lend enough credibility to their production to get it noticed by the Sheboygan Film Festival, or at the very least, get it onto a shelf at their local video store. What they don’t figure, however, is that the majority of these screeners we are sent lie in a small pile for several weeks before one of us finally gets around to watching the first half-hour or so late one night when we can’t fall asleep; more times than not, these half-assed, community-college film-school productions are the perfect antidote to insomnia.
Unfortunately, most of these talentless John Gulagers believe that a good dose of earnestness and a few maxed-out credit cards will make them the next Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, or Robert Rodriquez, when the more likely result is another half-decade sleeping on their parents’ couch while they pay off Citibank. And as delighted as I get about trashing the hell out of Disney Studio’s latest big-budget exploitation, I can’t seem to muster the chutzpah to shit on these poor bastards’ dreams; it just doesn’t seem right to me, knowing that someone out there will actually be affected by my profanity-laced ramblings. So, in lieu of actual honesty, I toss the screener in the wastebasket and add the PR firm’s email address to my junk mail setting and change my phone number yet again. It’s a cowardly way to live, I realize, but like most critics (I presume), I live behind movie and computer screens, terrified of actual confrontation.
Still, a couple of months ago, having newly arrived in Ithaca, New York, a local paper ran a puff piece on an Ithaca-produced film, Waiting on Alphie, that was making the local theater rounds and that — at least according to producer Eric Lindstrom, and probably the cast’s friends and family — had been rather well received. Thus, in a rare move, I actually requested a screener, and once it arrived, I again relegated it to the pile of unseen screeners in the corner of my office until — alas — I stuck it in my laptop during a long flight to the South, once again seeking release from consciousness. But lo! was my effort stymied, because hell if the damned movie wasn’t an entertaining way to pass a couple of hours. I mean, it’s no Pulp Fiction or anything, but for a movie produced and filmed in two weeks on what was probably a three-or-four-credit-card budget, it managed to keep a guy awake and, for the most part, oblivious to the fact I was flying over Kalamazoo.
Written and directed by Kevin Hicks, the premise of Waiting on Alphie is remarkably straightforward: A hit-man named Gus (Lance Zurek) comes into a Buffalo diner and sits across from Alphie (James Fulater). Beneath the table, Gus has a gun pointed at his target, informing Alphie that he is to sit in the diner until Gus receives a phone call instructing him either to kill Alphie or offer him a flight to safety.
From there, the overnight standoff plays out rather like an extended version of the diner scene between Dan Akyroyd and John Cusack in Grosse Point Blank, the one where both assassins have guns pointed at each other and yet are able to discuss the finer points of dietary restrictions with snarkalicious ease. In Alphie, however, the conversational exchanges begin awkwardly, a bit like the irritatingly banal grad-school ravings of a philosophy student, filtered through a few too many viewings of Reservoir Dogs. The two run the culinary gamut, discussing in mind-numbing detail everything from coffee to appetizers to flavors of pie, anything really to avoid discussing the reason they are there. We understand only that the two have a vaguely complicated history together, and that Alphie is probably no innocent victim here, having run in the same circles with Gus in the past.
Once Hicks works through the often-grating observational humor, which plays out like a bad Tarantino stand-up routine broken intermittently by the obnoxious waiter (Matthew Landon), the film finally gets to the business of unraveling the mystery behind their extended encounter. As Alphie winds and twists its way toward conclusion, Hicks effectively ratchets the tension as Gus and Alphie angle for position. Indeed, as the two men engage in the metaphorical dick-measuring contest, it becomes all too apparent that the man with the gun may not actually hold all of the power. The moralizing and speechifying gets a little heavy-handed, but there is more than enough narrative intrigue (and some very nice soundtrack numbers) to counterbalance the often tedious dialogue.
Waiting on Alphie may be derivative, but it’s not cliche; though it isn’t a great film, it’s better than most of the schlock Hollywood has churned out this year. It’s not difficult, either, to see the talent of Hicks or his potential; Alphie may not wind up in too many Blockbuster outlets, but with a few more credit cards, a script doctor, and a more experienced cast, Hicks’ next film may just wind up on 3,000 screens.
The Haunt in Ithaca (702 Willow Ave.) is hosting a screening that will begin at 9 p.m. on Tuesday night, Oct. 18. On Oct. 29 at at 2 p.m., another screening will take place at the Palace Theater, 2384 James St., in Syracuse, NY.
For more information, visit www.waitingonalphiemovie.com.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()