Lionsgate // 2009 // 80 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // December 14th, 2010
"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."
When you judge a straight-to-DVD comedy by its cover, there are a few key
components to look for:
Does it have a heavy-handed illustration of the film's main theme -- like, for example, a scale with an angel and a devil? Are the technical specs on the back more prominent than the synopsis? Can the film be described by name-dropping other hip, indie directors? Most importantly, is the "big name comedian" attached to the film seen on the box art wearing more than one outfit? Traditionally, it's safe to assume an actor (like Zach Galifianakis) hogging 70 percent of the DVD packaging is the star of the film; however, if he's wearing the same shirt in every picture, odds are this is a "cameo con." Much of the straight-to-DVD market is about bait-and-switch marketing (BS marketing, for short), and Frenemy is no different.
To be clear, I did not judge Frenemy by its cover. I watched it.
The problem with Frenemy isn't that its cover art is misleading (it is), but that the film contained within isn't nearly as good as the cover suggests. Are you surprised? What promises to be a lighthearted romp through the garden of good and evil at the expense of Galifianakis is instead an overwritten, film school morality play set in the dregs of Los Angeles. Stars Matthew Modine (Weeds) and Callum Blue (Smallville) spend much of the film strolling around, commenting on life and piecing together a murder mystery that is neither interesting nor all that mysterious. This angel/devil duo sees meaningless chaos all around them and could care less. Occasionally they wander into tropes like a bumbling robber with zero confidence or an obnoxious daytime talk show host before the film wraps up after a painful 80 minutes. Oh yeah, and Zach Galifianakis gets an extended cameo as a subdued porn store clerk.
Frenemy suggests influences from Kevin Smith (with long, profane monologues that could easily double as lame blog entries) and David Lynch (with sudden violence and bizarre imagery found in seemingly normal society), but pulls off neither very well. The Smith-esque dialogue lacks any sort of wit or comedic timing, and is instead delivered with the energy of a dead turtle. The humor plays poorly against the film's more obvious Lynch moments. There are plenty of awkward times when the movie shifts towards the surreal: the audio is flooded with disturbing soundscapes as crazed public transportation patrons glare at the camera. There's also the occasional dismemberment scene and a bum fight. None of this has the subtext or artistry of a David Lynch mystery; it just sits there.
As the cover art eagerly states: the DVD comes in widescreen with a Dolby Digital Surround track. The film looks and sounds adequate, but there's no supplements outside of promotional trailers for other movies.
Don't let the DVD box art fool you, this isn't a funny film. It's not even a film worth watching. Heck, according to IMDb, it wasn't even called Frenemy originally. It was Little Fish, Strange Pond. Even the title is a bait-and-switch.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R