In this week’s low-profile VOD releases, alien invasions are challenged by mysticism and childishness, while a teenage girl, a grizzled P.I. and a brooding bodyguard search for meaning in their lives.
Agent Revelation (VOD January 22): Anyone who hasn’t seen writer/director/star Derek Ting’s previous film, 2017’s sci-fi thriller Agent, may be confused by this sequel, but anyone who has seen Agent is also likely to be confused, thanks to Revelation’s incoherent plotting, vague world-building and poorly defined character relationships. After surviving an encounter with a mysterious alien substance in Agent, Ting’s Jim Yung has acquired superpowers, and is now training with a super-secret agency run by a mysterious billionaire (Star Trek’s Michael Dorn). Aliens may be attempting to take over the world (their intent is never quite clear), but the entire movie takes place within a training facility, with a distinct lack of urgency. Ting devotes so much time to pseudo-spiritual exploration that the movie verges on Neil Breen levels of oblivious self-importance, and the janky production values, clumsy performances and melodramatic emotional outbursts don’t help. Grade: D
PG: Psycho Goreman (VOD and select theaters January 22): Writer-director Steven Kostanski (The Void, Leprechaun Returns) combines Troma, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and 1980s kids-adventure movies into this amusingly ridiculous horror-comedy, about a pair of young siblings who unearth an ancient alien evil. The title character (whose nickname comes directly from the kids) is determined to exterminate humanity, but entitled brat Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) finds a gem that controls him, so he’s stuck playing kids’ games instead. Hanna is hilarious as a pint-sized tyrant, and Kostanski mines plenty of humor from PG’s thwarted threats of planetary destruction. Kostanski also creates some fantastic practical effects for PG and his alien enemies, although the more elaborate the intergalactic saga becomes, the more the movie loses focus. Psycho Goreman would have been a perfect 20-minute short, but fans of self-aware kitsch should still find plenty of entertainment in this scattered feature-length film. Grade: B
#Like (VOD January 26): What starts out as an After School Special-style story about cyber-bullying takes a turn into thriller territory when teenager Rosie (Sarah Rich) kidnaps the man she believes harassed her younger sister online and drove her to suicide. Writer-director Sarah Pirozek aims for restraint, never turning Rosie into a sadistic torturer, and maintaining doubt about the extent of the man’s responsibility. Rich, who recalls a younger Brie Larson, is excellent as the outwardly confident, inwardly terrified Rosie, who’s dealing with feelings of guilt and regret over her sister’s death, and finds a convenient outlet in this seemingly predatory man (Marc Menchaca). But the narrative equivocating just robs the story of suspense, and instead of thought-provoking, the ambiguity is frustrating and disingenuous. Rather than timely commentary on rape culture, the movie serves up wan plot twists and a shrug of an ending. Grade: C+
Respite (VOD January 26): Jimmy Baz (Monte Bezell) embodies all the cliches of the washed-up private eye, from the office littered with newspaper clippings and takeout containers to the nights spent sleeping on the couch to the day-drinking to the tragic past that drove him from his job on the police force. And, of course, the one big case that could redeem him, which here is the disappearance of an Afghan refugee and local college student, reported missing by his American adoptive parents. That investigation leads Jimmy to a possible killer targeting Muslims (we know this because Jimmy’s cop buddy says, “I think we’ve got ourselves a Muslim-killer”), connected to the practices of local warlords during the War in Afghanistan (which Jimmy learns about by looking up “Afghanistan War” on Wikipedia). The excessively hard-boiled style is at odds with the delicate subject matter, which the filmmakers treat with lurid sensationalism, and the plot is full of obvious dead ends and dubious logical leaps. Grade: C-
Haymaker (VOD and select theaters January 29): A former Muay Thai fighter falls for the singer he’s been hired to protect in this sluggish romantic drama from veteran special effects artist Nick Sasso. Sasso writes, directs, edits and stars as Nick, who’s working as a nightclub bouncer when he meets sultry singer Nomi (Nomi Ruiz). He’s a musclebound Bronx bruiser who restores muscle cars for fun, and she’s a trans woman whose life is full of fashion, dancing, parties and drugs. Will they fall in love? Yes, but at an excruciatingly drawn-out pace, accompanied by many desaturated slow-motion shots of characters looking pensively into the middle distance, while mournful music plays. Ruiz, a successful singer-songwriter, shows off her charisma, but Sasso is a complete blank, and the movie withers when the focus shifts to Nick’s attempts at a Muay Thai comeback. The romance itself is disappointingly timid, barely generating any heat until the final shot. Grade: C