In this week’s minor VOD releases, a criminal takes a fateful ride, a comedian learns not to mess with hecklers, and a sex cult member compares her vagina to Erin Brockovich.
Nightride (VOD and select theaters March 4): Its single-take gimmick may be unnecessary, but this Irish thriller gets a jolt of urgency from director Stephen Fingleton’s commitment to never cutting away from main character Budge (Moe Dunford). Budge is your basic small-time criminal looking to go straight after one last job, and Nightride is full of familiar underworld elements, from the excessively sadistic kingpin to the bumbling lackeys. Nearly all of Nightride takes place in Budge’s car as he drives around Belfast, making phone calls to arrange and then salvage his big score. Dunford is the only actor onscreen for the majority of the movie, which is like a cross between the Tom Hardy drama Locke and the Frank Grillo Netflix thriller Wheelman. That’s a big responsibility, and Dunford carries Nightride with a low-key mix of determination and desperation. It’s not hard to predict how things will end up for Budge, but his deceptively simple journey to get there is suspenseful and gripping. Grade: B+
Adventures in Success (Select theaters March 4; VOD March 8): This comedy’s bland title belies its amiable ridiculousness, which borrows heavily from Christopher Guest and The State. Director and co-writer Jay Buim doesn’t come up with anything nearly as funny as those influences, though, despite the premise’s comedic possibilities. On a rural compound, a serene guru leads her followers in the worship of the female orgasm, for purposes that are never quite specified. Jilling Off is part sex cult, part wellness business, part self-help retreat, with vaguely defined values and structure. Adventures in Success is full of wackiness, from an absurdist self-defense class to a character getting abducted by aliens, but it also delves into heavy discussions about body shaming and rape culture. It’s hard to tell whether Buim is making fun of his characters or endorsing their new-agey worldview, and the reliance on improv leads to a lot of shapeless, repetitive scenes. A movie all about orgasms ironically fails to produce a satisfying climax. Grade: C
Heckle (VOD March 8): There’s plenty of potential in the concept of a comedian being stalked by a homicidal heckler, but this cheapo British horror comedy never capitalizes on it. Awkwardly split between two timelines that seems like they were edited together from different movies, Heckle opens with bitter old-school comedian Ray Kelly (Steve Guttenberg) being murdered in his home by a mysterious killer. Decades later, comedian Joe Johnson (Guy Combes) is set to star in a Ray Kelly biopic, which draws the attention of an unseen disgruntled fan (played by the late Clark Gable III). After trading meager insults with the heckler, Joe heads to a horror movie-friendly secluded vacation house, along with some expendable friends. Meanwhile, there are flashbacks to Ray Kelly’s life that eventually fill in the connections between the two men in reveals that are not nearly as shocking as they’re made out to be. The stand-up comedy in Heckle may not be funny, but its sloppy kill scenes generate some inadvertent laughs. Grade: C-
Invincible (VOD and DVD March 8): This cut-rate riff on Universal Soldier features D-list action stars Johnny Strong and Marko Zaror as mercenaries who do battle after being enhanced with nanotechnology. Strong and Zaror are no Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, and their fight scenes are almost as weak as their efforts at emoting. Zaror gets to do more damage as a soldier whose exposure to the experimental formula drives him slightly insane, causing him to mow down various hapless extras. Brooding bodyguard Cam (Strong) is always one step behind, until he too gets a dose of what one scientist keeps calling “micro machines,” like they’re a children’s toy car. The plot is full-on nonsense, and the movie devotes as much time to Cam’s melodramatic relationship with his singer ex-wife as it does to the hunt for a deranged killer on the loose. Strong, who also co-wrote the screenplay and composed the music, pouts and rages, and no amount of nanotechnology can improve his performance. Grade: D
Moon Manor (VOD and select theaters March 11): The life of actor, musician, and activist James Carrozo provides inspiration for the debut feature from the writing and directing duo known as KnifeRock (Erin Granat and Machete Bang Bang). Granat and Bang Bang give the 84-year-old Carrozo a loving spotlight, as an Alzheimer’s-afflicted man who has chosen to leave life on his own terms. Jimmy (Carrozo) has decided to throw his own funeral, inviting all of his friends to a blow-out party before he ends his life. There’s some underwhelming conflict in minor plot threads about a writer (Lou Taylor Pucci) hoping to chronicle Jimmy’s last hurrah and Jimmy’s estranged brother (Richard Riehle) expressing his opposition to the plan, but mostly Moon Manor is a sweet, gentle celebration of a full life. Carrozo makes the most of his belated turn as a leading man, and the rest of the cast provides the same exuberant encouragement for him that Jimmy’s friends lend to his final day on Earth. Grade: B