Flying Penguin Pictures // 2009 // 92 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // July 12th, 2010
A Rock Paper Scissors odyssey.
Consider the quotation mark. In the world of punctuation, they wield great power. Sure, the period has the strength to build walls between sentences; and commas and hyphens, when used improperly (or not at all), can change the intended meaning of a sentence. But quotation marks have the ability not only to create, but also to destroy. They are the very basis of communication, giving characters voices necessary to share ideas and feelings. Without them, stories would be filled with people trapped in internal monologues -- alone, and italicized. Even more powerful, however, is the effect quotation marks have when put around a single, unspoken word. They can transform even the mightiest collection of letters into something less -- a joke shared between the writer and his audience, at the unwitting word's expense.
For example, compare these two sentences:
1) Baseball is a sport; and
2) Rock, Paper, Scissors is a "sport."
See what I mean?
Written by Jonah Tulis, who also directed, and Blake Harris, The Flying Scissors digs into the world of competitive Rock, Paper, Scissors by following a group of eight regional RPS winners preparing for nationals. There's stay at home dad, Phil (Mason Pettit, The Superagent); college kid, Matty (Jeremy Redleaf, Making the Team); beauty queen, Anna (Sarah Wheeler, Guiding Light); math whiz, Bruce (Keong Sim, The Last Airbender); a fearsome competitor known only as "The Rock" (Devin Ratray, Home Alone); trash-talker, Leon (Mike Britt, Human Giant); feminist, Leslie (Susan O'Connor, The Moment); and, Frank (Todd Susman, Newhart), an RPS circuit mainstay taking one last shot at glory.
The Flying Scissors takes a lot of cues from documentary-style movies like Spellbound (an actual documentary) and Chrisopher Guest's Best in Show (a not-at-all real documentary). Like those movies, Scissors follows a group of characters as they prepare for a big competition. Unfortunately, The Flying Scissors is nowhere near as funny, well-written, or interesting as those movies.
Where those other movies focus on a group of around five or six people, Scissors packs the story with well more than a dozen characters. Besides the actual competitors, there's Anna's sleazy agent, Matty's grizzled coach, a referee, an RPS historian, Phil's family, The Rock's mother, the two guys who run the National Rock, Paper, Scissors League (NRPSL), and the head of the NRPSL's rival Coin Toss Association. That's a lot of characters. Too many characters. It's confusing, and ends up slowing the pace to a crawl as the camera jumps from one talking head to another. Even worse, having to juggle a sprawling cast of actors (some far more convincing than others) means that it takes forever to get to the climactic Rock, Paper, Scissors throwdown at the end.
Too bad that climactic throwdown is such a dud.
If you're going to do a sports comedy about a game played primarily at recess, you've got to nail the big competition sequence. It's got to be bigger, badder, and more over-the-top than its real-life counterpart. The Flying Scissors ends up in a community college gymnasium with a crowd of literally dozens of people. The competition itself is shot almost entirely from a distance. The matches are presented with little fanfare or any real tension. Major characters -- people whose hopes and dreams we've been asked to care about for the past hour or so -- are eliminated in seconds, with just barely enough time to ask "Wait, what happened?" before the next pair steps up to the mat.
Even with the pacing problems, uneven acting, and stinker of a final showdown, The Flying Scissors might have been worth watching if it was funny. It's not. Aside from the inspired profanity of the trash-talking Leon and the running gag that Phil always wins by forfeit, I'm not sure I cracked a smile. Even the fake-sport-through-the-ages montages (usually a slam dunk for these kind of movies) falls flat. You can't just tell me that Harry Truman was an RPS aficionado; you've got to fake some footage of him throwing paper. If you really want me to accept the premise that RPS was used to settle disputes in ancient Greece, why not also say that it used to be called something like "Rock, Tablet, Chisel"? It's just lazy.
To give credit where credit is due, The Flying Scissors looks good on DVD. The widescreen transfer is crisp and bright, the handheld feel is never distracting, and the stereo soundtrack is clean with good separation for dialogue.
The disc's lone bonus feature (sorry, DVD, but "unrated theatrical trailer," "scene selection," "interactive menus," and "Dolby stereo sound" don't count) is an audio commentary track recorded by writers Tulis and Harris. If you enjoyed the movie, it's engaging enough, with stories about the actors and the filmmaking process. I was struck more by how often they felt the need to explain the movie's jokes. Notably missing from the extras are the requisite deleted scenes and unused documentary footage.
Comedy is subjective, so I can accept the idea that other people might enjoy this far more than I did. Like the niche sport it profiles, it's just not for everyone.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to make a comedy about competitive Rock, Paper, Scissors. The rules are easy to understand and, unlike many sports-in-quotation-marks, everyone's played it at some point in their lives. Plus, if you stay up late enough on the weekends, there's a good chance you'll actually see it on ESPN 2. I once caught a real-life RPS competition on TV. The guys who played were deadly serious, as were the announcers, refs, and gathered crowd of drunken frat boys. It was a slickly produced show, filmed in Vegas, and presented as genuine entertainment on a legitimate cable sports network. It was way more fun to watch than anything in The Flying Scissors.
Rock crushes scissors...and this movie is scissors. Guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Flying Penguin Pictures
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated