Cinema Epoch // 1997 // 75 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 1st, 2006
A 10-year-old low-budget splatter festival finds new life in the digital world. Is this tale of deranged mutants running amok in a post-nuclear holocaust wasteland worth your time?
Following a failed attempt to unify the people of Earth into one big happy family, the entire planet goes belly-up in an orgy of nuclear mayhem, leaving behind a barren wasteland. Mutants and eccentric human leftovers commingle in a tenuous peace. Slangman (Frank Kowal) is a traveling salesman and wordsmith, who drops by mutant base camps to pawn off 21st century memorabilia and boast about his ever-expanding knowledge. One day he meets a wandering mute warrior Scotsman (Brad Rockhold), from whom he learns about a mysterious oracle called "the Source." It is there that Slangman sees the opportunity to become the smartest man in the world and the two begin a quest to track down the mythical Source.
Along the way they pick up a dopey blonde actress (Wendie Newcomb) and they encounter a burned-out hippie, some idiot nomads and the sinister, bazooka-wielding Captain Obvious, who wants to beat Slangman to the Source so he can become all-powerful.
There's a lot of stuff working for Bleak Future, and, unfortunately, a couple of big things that work against it.
Because I'm writing this on the day after Thanksgiving and the residual effects of the tryptophan are still coursing through my system, I'll lay out the stuff I like about this movie. First, it's unlike anything I've seen before. Er, maybe that's not entirely accurate as it reflects heavy influences from other films (more on that later), but the way the flick looks and moves, and the over-the-top plot, offers a truly interesting experience.
What you'll notice out of the gate is the film's look, a washed-out grainy visual treatment, often peppered with ridiculously bright pastel colors (especially in the background). This approach gives Bleak Future the appearance, of, well, bleakness, and I actually dig it a lot more than corny video stock, the usual lifeblood of homegrown features like this one. The colors and textures fit the (intentional) cheap, schlocky feel of the movie.
And, ultimately, it is that cheap, schlocky feel, combined with a tireless pace and some half-decent writing that gives Bleak Future some legs. The plot is simple -- one man's quest with some weirdos in tow -- but the back story is pretty boffo: the unified government decides to blast the continents with satellites and reverse continental drift, creating a new super landmass called New Pangea, which ultimately leads to widespread violence. It's a goofy take on the usual post-apocalyptic theme and the whole radioactive mutant angle allows for some very good makeup and gore work.
The focus zooms in on the exploits of Slangman, Atlatl the Scottish warrior and Femme, the blonde, and these three are responsible for shouldering the majority of the comedy burden. And this is where the film unraveled for me. Atlatl was decent (we all know Scottish dudes are intrinsically funny) and his violent tendencies paid off in over-the-top bloodshed, Femme had the dumb blonde shtick going, well-played by Newcomb, but, frankly, after 20 minutes with Kowal's Slangman, I was prepared to eat a bullet. The guy just lays it on so thick, overacting with such reckless chutzpah I felt like I was back in high school, sitting at the lunch table with the loser kids who reenact scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The performance is among the most grating I've had to endure and it's a no-win situation: if 1) it was purposefully horrid and cheesy it's still horrid and cheesy and not any less bearable 2) if the guy was trying to be funny then what a catastrophic misfire.
And since I mentioned Holy Grail, it is clear that writer/director Brian O'Malley was a fan (along with Peter Jackson's Bad Taste, no doubt), as there are many, many moments in the film that ape Python lunacy; I was expecting those guys in the "Nomad" scene to start belting out "Ni!"
So, good makeup, some sharp jokes, lots of energy and a unique look are blighted by an incredibly annoying character and some unflattering knock-offs. Still, if you're in the mood for a Peter Jackson-flavored splatter-comedy wannabe with some good ideas, it might be worth it to give this a whirl.
The full frame and 2.0 stereo track aren't technical marvels but they get the job done (again, that's the way the movie is supposed to look). There are a ton of extras, though: a behind-the-scenes featurette, outtakes, deleted scenes, two commentary tracks (one with the cast, the other with director, producer and makeup artist), over 500 stills, production sketches, bios, a map of the Bleak Future world, technical details and DVD-ROM accessible wallpaper, script, and the MP3 movie soundtrack.
Bleak Future has some fun moments (the Scottish rampage of carnage in the finale is delectable), but some major irritants keep me from getting too excited about this flick. Great DVD, though.
Not guilty -- with reservations.
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Epoch
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Pig Latin
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Cast Commentary
* Director/Producer/FX Director Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Still Galleries
* Production Art
* Technical Details
* Interactive Map
* Script (DVD-ROM)
* Soundtrack (DVD-ROM)
* Wallpapers (DVD-ROM)
* Pig Latin Subtitles