Monday, July 05, 2010

Expendable – review

Directed by: Mark Baranowski

Release date: 2003

Contains spoilers

You know, I always want to be constructive when I write a review. There are many a micro-budget film out there and, in truth, most are never going to be anywhere near perfect. The story can be, the script can be, but the filming, lighting, acting, sound... all these things are going to struggle due to budget restrictions. Some micro budget films raise themselves up much higher than they, by rights, should do. Others struggle and some just don’t work at all.

When the director has been good enough to send me a screener then I feel somewhat guilty if I can’t be at least constructive and perhaps even positive about aspects of the film but, in all my reviews, I strive to be honest. People might disagree with me but what I write is my honest opinion. My first loyalty is to the genre as well as the blog readers, and thus I may feel guilty but have to state that the film Expendable is simply not very good. This is the full version (just under 1 hour) of the film as opposed to the version with 10 minutes expunged that appears as part of “the Ryli Morgan Collection”.

Mark Baranowski as David
It begins with David (Mark Baranowski) sat in his truck. We can tell the film was shot on cam and the background seems over-exposed because of this. David is a drug dealer but he is accepting a pay off to hand the territory over to another dealer and he will go into retirement. As we change camera angles, listening to him talk on the phone, we realise that there is inconsistent sound. Face on the sound is clear but there is a lot of background noise in profile and the dialogue is overwhelmed by the sound of traffic.

Ryli Morgan as Nicole
Following this call he phones his (unnamed) girlfriend (Brinke Stevens, Skeleton Key and Vampires Vs Zombies) and tells her there is one more thing he needs to do. The film cuts to a house, the owner clearly has a thing for masks as they adorn the walls. Sleeping there is a woman called Nicole (Ryli Morgan) who is woken by a phone call from Leslie (Rachelle Williams, A Feast of Flesh). They arrange to meet later.

confused character actions
Nicole has a bath and, when she gets out, we see that David is in her room. She accuses him of breaking and entering – though he still has his key – as they are separated (probably divorced). She leaves the room to get dressed and then they talk – though the dialogue isn’t fantastic and the delivery not brilliant. Worst was the fact that they begin to get it on (leading to a rather revealing view of Nicole’s privates) and then she suddenly stops. The conversation never indicates that she would act that way, there seems precious little chemistry (especially given that the actors are actually married) and the blurb of the DVD has already revealed that Nicole and Leslie are in a relationship.

David won’t reveal why he is there and, as they sit outside – Nicole wearing shades as her eyes are light sensitive, he suggests they go for a ride. He takes her across the city to a spot where he likes to sit and think. He has decided that everyone is expendable and this may well be why he is leaving the drug pushing business, a desire to enjoy life while he can – though the film is not that explicit on his motivation.

Brinke Stevens as the girlfriend
Nicole asked him who got him thinking about life and he says it was his girlfriend. His thoughts go to her and we are treated to a striptease by Ms Stevens. Now here is the rub, it is soon revealed that he wants Nicole to leave with him (though he wants all three of them to leave) and it feels like the girlfriend was added in as an afterthought because they managed to get Brinke Stevens on board and created a role for her (I stand to be corrected on this, it is just how it feels). As it is, the girlfriend aspect makes the entire motivation ring untrue and Stevens is only used in this scene and one scene holding an unanswered telephone – she doesn’t even get to speak.

I just stabbed you!
So, they get back and David reveals his master plan of a threesome and is denied. He asks for a goodbye kiss and produces a knife that he stabs into Nicole. Now, had they not had his girlfriend in the story and if he had been kicked out by Nicole, wanted her back and killed her because no one else could have her then the entire plot would have rung so much more true. As it is he kills her (for reasons unknown) and goes for a shower.

Lesbian vampire lovers of lust
Once out of the shower he is looking in a mirror. He turns around to see Nicole, now fanged, and she attacks him. Leslie shows up and, when no one answers her knocks, lets herself in. She finds Nicole and, of course, has fangs herself. They get down to some softcore kissing and rubbing blood into each other’s boobs – the end.

The story did not gel and the acting was poor. I didn’t buy the motivations or the character interactions. The sound was inconsistent (one conversation between Nicole and David had different degrees of background noise). The soundtrack, by Marquis (Baranowski’s musical pseudonym), was ill at ease with the actual film, intrusive rather than complementary. The ending didn't carry well, personally I think I might have had David faced with a vampiric Leslie and then turning to Nicole who then reveals her vampirism, clichéd but more likely to give the film a tension it sorely missed. I will say that the shots in the house were at least watchable in that we didn’t lose all to darkness.

So... difficult to be constructive but, at the very least, they gave it a go and created a film. 1.5 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

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