This month’s fringe VOD offerings include an alien invasion, a haunted mansion, and a psychic dominatrix, but none of that quite compares to the sight of a machine gun-wielding Kelsey Grammer.
Money Plane (VOD July 10) What exactly is a “money plane”? Why, it’s a flying casino on which the world’s most dangerous criminals gather to gamble on illicit activities that are permitted because the plane only flies in “international airspace,” of course. Money Plane assembles an all-star cast of C-listers, including pro wrestler Adam “Edge” Copeland, Thomas Jane, Kelsey Grammer, Denise Richards, and all three Lawrence brothers (Joey, Matthew and Andrew, who also co-wrote and directed), to tell the story of an elite team of thieves (led by Copeland’s Jack Reese) who infiltrate the plane. The heist plan makes no sense, the action is sporadic and listless, the dialogue is full of macho nonsense, and the set where most of the movie was shot only vaguely resembles the interior of a plane (its primary “fancy” decoration is a single lava lamp). Copeland does most of his acting with his man bun, but at least Grammer seems to be having fun as a crime boss named Darius Grouch III who nicknames himself both “The Rumble” and “Colonel.” Grade: D+
Useless Humans (VOD July 14) The humans in this movie are useless at foiling a poorly defined alien invasion, but they also feel useless in their everyday lives, all approaching 30 with little to show for it. The four childhood friends gather for a vacation weekend to celebrate the 30th birthday of Brian (Josh Zuckerman), who’s just quit his latest dead-end job and is still nursing an unrequited crush on best friend Jess (Davida Williams), even though she’s brought her latest boyfriend along for the trip. There’s some weak banter about the characters’ thwarted life ambitions and the indignities of growing up, and director and co-writer Stephen Ohl makes an inconsistent effort to tie the friends’ aimlessness in life to their newfound purpose in trying to stop a deadly alien from destroying the Earth (or so they think). Humans is pretty useless as sci-fi/horror and mostly useless as comedy, although the four leads have nice chemistry as friends, and Edy Ganem and Maya Kazan add some off-kilter energy as a pair of secret operatives tracking the alien. Grade: C+
Dirt Music (VOD July 17) There’s a lot of moping in this excessively somber adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel about the affair between nomadic former nurse Georgie (Kelly Macdonald) and washed-up musician Lu (Garrett Hedlund). Both have endured tragedies, and both are tied to the Australian coastal community of White Point, where Georgie lives with local fishing baron Jim Buckridge (David Wenham), and Lu spends his days poaching from Buckridge’s designated trawling territory. They fall into an unconvincing romance that’s more about grief and resentment than love or even lust, but at least there’s a little heat to their initial attraction. The movie then pulls them apart to become a kind of outdoor survival story, doling out bits of melodramatic back story at protracted intervals, while the characters offer melancholy stares into the harsh (but beautiful) Australian wilderness. The passion in the central relationship is completely drained, and the movie never recovers. Grade: C
Ghosts of War (VOD July 17) In 1944 Nazi-occupied France, a group of American soldiers are assigned to guard a remote, abandoned mansion that is apparently an important strategic target for the German army, although it’s not clear why that would be. As the soldiers set up camp in the musty old house, they start seeing strange apparitions and hearing sudden loud noises because, of course, the house is haunted. The dull characters wander around empty rooms, with the silence broken by occasional jump scares. It’s rote and boring, but at least it’s preferable to the insane twist that kicks off the third act, essentially invalidating the entire preceding hour and leading to a series of hilariously misguided developments. Anyone who’s seen writer-director Eric Bress’ previous movie, the equally insane (and equally laughable) The Butterfly Effect, will recognize some of his weird obsessions here, but he mostly uses the plot reset to excuse the one-dimensional characterization, clunky dialogue and sloppy period detail that comes before it. It turns out that the poor storytelling is the point. Grade: C-
Holy Trinity (VOD July 21) Writer-director Molly Hewitt’s surreal comedy takes place in a pastel-colored queer- and kink-friendly utopia, where even the priest that main character Trinity (Hewitt) consults about her metaphysical crisis wears a bondage collar under his clerical collar and is a big fan of Madonna (the singer). After huffing a can of “spiritual cleansing spray,” professional dominatrix Trinity discovers that she can talk to the dead, which comes in handy when she can hear about her clients’ mommy and daddy issues from their actual mommies and daddies. But it also complicates her relationship with her non-binary partner Baby (Theo Germaine) and brings her unwelcome attention from seekers who expect her to give them answers about their departed loved ones. Holy Trinity is as much about bizarre dream sequences and psychedelic musical performances as it is about the supernatural, and the colorful design sense walks a fine line between eye-popping and eyesore. But Hewitt has a unique and uncompromising vision of radical acceptance, and Holy Trinity works as performance art even when it falters as a narrative. Grade: B-
Dead Dicks (VOD and Blu-ray/DVD July 28) Despite its jokey title, Dead Dicks is surprisingly sensitive about suicide and mental illness in its portrayal of troubled artist Richie (Heston Horwin) and his caretaker sister Becca (Jillian Harris). The suicidal Richie is literally unable to kill himself, since each time he dies, he’s reborn via a vaginal-looking portal in the bedroom of his dingy apartment. Becca responds to Richie’s urgent distress calls to discover multiple dead bodies in his apartment, all copies of Richie himself, who treats the phenomenon with a bemused detachment. Writer-directors Chris Bavota and Lee Paula Springer effectively balance dark comedy, emotional trauma and cosmic horror for most of the movie, even though the premise is eventually stretched thin at feature length, and the ambiguous ending is more frustrating than intriguing. Harris is especially good as the woman who’s put her own desires and ambitions on hold for her entire life so that she can take care of her brother, whether that means making sure he takes his meds or hacking his cloned bodies into pieces so they can be disposed of properly. Grade: B