Pasadena Down Under
What could you do with one hundred thousand dollars? If you wanted to be insufferably responsible, you could make a solid down payment on a house, begin a solid college fund for your kid, or generously help one (or several) charities. Those are all mature, respectable suggestions. They’re also boring.
For starters, you could buy a jet pack! By that I mean, a jet pack, an honest to God functional jet pack. You could buy a security detail and have them protect you for a solid year. You could buy an untitled piece of art made by Basquiat, one of Kobe Bryant’s NBA championship rings, hell, you could hire The Roots to play a private concert for you.
You know what James Pratt did with that kind of money? He made a movie. If you’re not familiar with him, Pratt is an Australian filmmaker and real estate auctioneer.* Years spent as an actor ignited his interest in directing, and he made a number of shorts, television episodes, and a documentary. Filmmaking continues to be both an expensive and risky way to make a living, and just because you’ve been involved in the industry for a while, there’s no guarantee you’ll be successful.
Pratt raised one hundred thousand dollars to fund his first feature film, Malibu Crush. This Dumb and Dumber by way of Bondi Beach comedy is uneven, but there are moments of real filmmaking promise here.
Pasadena is nobody’s idea of a glamorous place. I suppose it’s fitting then that best friends Michael (James Pratt) and Duey (Billy White) are locals. Since high school, they haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory. Why is that? Partially because Michael is content to be a slacker. Mostly because Duey is a nitwit, a dingus, a dolt, a schmendrick, an absolute ass clown, if you will.
Opportunity doesn’t so much knock for them as it vigorously and repeatedly kicks them in the groin. You see, Bridget (Kelly Monisee) was the one that got away, a beloved girlfriend of Michael’s from high school. She moved on, went to Australia, and the word is that she’s bound to be married. In response, Michael has a plan. Michael’s plan, such as it is, is to travel to Australia, stop the wedding, and profess his love for her. To paraphrase a great American intellectual, this is not a great plan.
So how are the guys getting halfway around the world? It’s easy! All they have to do is impersonate students enrolled at a swanky film school who are sent to Sydney to film a commercial with a cretinous athlete (Kyle Lovett). I mean, what could be easier than faking your way into the film industry, right?**
Once Michael and Duey arrive in Sydney, things don’t get any easier for them. They proceed to destroy the goodwill of Jason (Shaun Anthony Robinson), their chauffeur and initial host. They piss off Carl (Daniel Musial), a sea captain obsessed owner of a flat they scam their way into. And do things go well on the set of their commercial? They do not. At least Michael has Emma (Bella Valentini), a plucky assistant director, on his side.
If you’re a film nerd like me, you’ve likely seen your share of low-budget cinema. Watch enough films made on the cheap and you quickly learn there are two kinds of films. The first are the ones that are clearly amateur hour. These are made with minimal filmmaking talent and are a maximum chore to sit through. The second ones interest me. It’s these films where something works, and while they almost always feature serious flaws, you can see a pathway to a real career there.
Malibu Crush is the second kind of film. While I had serious issues with the storytelling and comedy (and we’ll get to that), there’s no denying that James Pratt has directed a movie that looks and feels like it cost a hell of a lot more than a hundred grand. His sequences showcasing the beauty of Sydney are gorgeous, and brisk pacing keeps the film moving. I spotted a few issues with color grading and film quality, but I imagine Pratt was doing his best with a tight budget and limited pre and post-production times.
Pratt’s screenplay was the part that needed work. By his own admission, he was going for a “Dumb and Dumber 3” kind of thing. That’s fine, but to pull that off, two things need to happen. First, the jokes need to come thick and fast. If you don’t like a joke, a better/different one will be along in seconds. Second, the “wacky” main characters need to also be likable, if not interesting. Neither of those things quite happen. The problem I had with the gags is that they tend to be obvious, first draft jokes. There are a few genuinely inspired bits of madness, such as the bargain-basement Bradley Cooper. They’re overshadowed by tired bits involving personality-free “hot chicks” and humor that never comes from character.
Characterization is the second and larger issue here. Why does Michael care so much about breaking up this wedding? The script hand-waves slightly at his motivations. Who is Duey beyond being the stereotypical goofball you’ve seen in a hundred other comedies? Eh…he’s just a funny guy. It frustrates me, because a sweet subplot involving a budding romance is handled well. Pratt can write; I just wish the entire screenplay had undergone a few more rigorous drafts.
By and large, the cast is okay. Pratt is a solid performer, but I like him less as the somewhat less stupid member of the comedy duo. He shines when he’s paired up with Bella Valentini, and those scenes have a lightness that’s frequently missing from the rest of the film. Valentini is also good as the perpetually perky Emma. She’s got a sneaky intelligence to her performance that I wish had been utilized more. Billy White’s Duey, on the other hand, is a one-note performance, a “look at me, I’m the crazy guy!” schtick. There needed to be more to Duey beyond that, and as a result, White feels like he’s always operating in fifth gear.
For those looking for a slapstick comedy that requires no heavy lifting, Malibu Crush fits the bill nicely. James Pratt spent one hundred thousand dollars to make this film, yet my gut tells me he was after more than just delivering a few yuks. It feels like a stepping stone to bigger and better things. If Pratt wants to evolve as a filmmaker, he’s certainly got the ability. I’m interested to see what he does next.
*Seriously! Seconds of research showed me that Pratt is enormously influential in the Australian and international real estate scene. If this filmmaking thing doesn’t pan out, I think he’s going to be okay.
**As it turns out, people of questionable talent scamming their way into the entertainment industry is the most realistic thing about this or any other film.