The lesson of this week’s minor VOD releases is that catchy titles can do a lot to distract from inept filmmaking, shaky premises, and disappointing outcomes.
Sewer Gators (VOD, DVD/Blu-ray, and VHS June 3): When you make a movie called Sewer Gators on what looks like a budget of the change found between couch cushions, you need to deliver more than just deliberate awfulness. It’s fine that writer-director Paul Dale doesn’t have the resources for decent special effects or set design or more than a handful of people to populate a supposed crowd scene. But just expecting audiences to laugh at his own ineptitude isn’t enough, especially when the humor is so obvious and weak. As the title indicates, Sewer Gators features killer alligators attacking from the sewers of a small Louisiana town, with lots of jokes about people’s asses getting bitten. A movie like this can be carried by clever writing, distinctive characters, and fun performances, but Dale mostly just offers lazy redneck stereotypes. At 61 minutes (including nine minutes of the world’s slowest-moving credits), it’s barely even a feature film. If the filmmakers don’t seem to care, why should the audience? Grade: D
ScarfFace (Select theaters June 3; VOD and DVD June 14): Puntastic title aside, this is a straightforward and not particularly well-structured documentary about the world of competitive eating, primarily the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island. Directors Joseph Ruzer and Sean Slater seem to have had limited access, and the first half of the movie is filled with low-quality archival footage, along with some scattered on-the-scene interviews. The focus is scattered, taking detours into sensationalized accounts of competitive eating scandals, sometimes throwing out serious accusations without evidence to back them up. The bulk of the material comes from the 2015 and 2016 Nathan’s competitions, so the movie feels stale and outdated, only rushing through more recent developments at the end. The competitive eating world is full of fascinating oddball characters, and Ruzer and Slater capture just enough of that to make it disappointing that they haven’t crafted a more effective portrait. Grade: C
The Fall of the Queens (VOD June 7): This surreal drama from Argentina starts out as a languid coming-of-age story before taking a darker, somewhat confusing turn in the final act. The narrative may get a little muddled, but the woozy atmosphere is immersive and the performances are strong, making for a striking feature debut from director Lucas Nazareno Turturro. Malena Filmus and Lola Abraldes play a pair of teenage sisters living with their aunt on a remote farm where they spend much of their time beekeeping. The family balance is upset by the arrival of their male cousin (Franco Rizzaro), who fuels a sexual awakening in both young women. The jealousy that plays out between the sisters is understated enough for this to be an engrossing family drama, but there are ominous flashes suggesting something more dangerous to come. What eventually plays out is a bit too inscrutable, only hinting at secrets that are never quite revealed, but the ambiguity keeps the story from becoming predictable. Grade: B
I’m Charlie Walker (VOD and select theaters June 10): Mike Colter brings some charisma and confidence to the title role in this mostly dry, didactic biopic. It’s no surprise that the real-life Charlie Walker is a producer on this movie, whichthat serves as a tribute to his ingenuity and boldness. Set in 1971 San Francisco, it tells the story of Charlie spearheading the clean-up of a massive spill by two Standard Oil tankers. The plot is bogged down in the minutiae of the trucking business and the logistics of oil removal, and Charlie’s supposed triumph over the Man is pretty meager. His record as a pioneer for Black people in the trucking industry is admirable, but the movie butters him up so much that it eventually comes across as disingenuous. Writer-director Patrick Gilles blankets the movie with redundant expository narration from Safiya Fredericks as Charlie’s wife, and his budget is clearly not robust enough to convincingly depict the 1970s, or a huge ecological disaster. Grade: C
Ninja Badass (Select theaters June 10; VOD and Blu-ray June 14): Writer/director/editor/star Ryan Harrison tries so hard to create a “cult” movie that it’s almost shocking he didn’t get a cameo from Tommy Wiseau. A little of this goes a long way, and Ninja Badass goes on far longer than its one-joke premise can sustain. Harrison plays Rex, a slacker moron who decides to become a ninja hero to rescue a beautiful pet store clerk kidnapped by an evil ninja cult. There are many more nonsensical twists to the plot, which is both incoherent and irrelevant, just an excuse for vulgar, sometimes slightly racist jokes and endless floods of garish CGI blood. As Rex, Harrison is more annoying than endearing, and Darrell Francis matches him as the over-the-top baby-eating villain who calls himself a “ninjer.” This is the kind of misguided labor of love that was clearly much more fun to create than it is to watch. Grade: D+