Case Number 02415: Small Claims Court


Lionsgate // 2000 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 27th, 2002

The Charge

Everybody loves a clown...
some more than others.

The Case

Poor Will Carlson (Brian O'Halloran, Clerks). Aside of living in a dank, dirty apartment surrounded by bullies and drunks, the guy also has an ailing mother (Jay Petrick) who berates him at every turn. But that's not the worst of his troubles -- Will is also a clown. Dressing up as "Flappy" and touring children's birthday parties, Will is content in being the butt of everyone's jokes. Things take a sudden horrible turn when Will comes up with what he believes is a hysterical money-making idea: dress up as a stripper with clown make-up and show up at bachelor parties to get a laugh. Unfortunately, Will's idea goes disastrously wrong when he drops by an apartment inhabited by an abusive father named Ed (Jerry Lewkowitz) and his two obnoxiously perverted sons (Matthew Maher and Ethan Suplee). After a brutal night of debauchery by this twisted family (including gang rape, torture, and a yucky thing called "rimming"), Will is let go and forced to deal with his tragedy. However, things turn around for him when he saves a little girl from a hostage situation while dressed as Flappy at a local birthday party. Suddenly Will -- or, more specifically Flappy -- becomes an instant media darling with a contract to host his own children's television show. But old wounds are pried open when Ed and his sons show up wanting $50,000 in exchange for a VHS tape of his torture that could ruin Flappy's career forever!

Vulgar is proof that you can't float on name recognition alone. No doubt many viewers will rent or buy this film because of writer/director Kevin Smith's involvement (don't get too excited, folks -- he was only a producer). While some of Smith's influences can be seen in the film, overall this is a dark, depressing story about a clown who gets gang-raped, becomes famous, then gets his revenge. Yes, you guessed it: Vulgar is a family film. There isn't anything particularly good about Vulgar -- the acting is very, very amateurish, the production values low, and the directing and writing (by co-star Bryan Johnson) shaky at best. Brian O'Halloran -- so funny as poor old Dante in Smith's far better first effort Clerks -- is given a character that the audience is to sympathize with, but doesn't. Maybe it's the fact that he's sorely underwritten. Or maybe it's that the supporting cast around him seems to be reading off of a script three feet from the camera. Or maybe it's just that O'Halloran is decent with it comes to comedy, but flails like a dying fish when it comes to drama (one scene where O'Halloran's character spills his guts to his best friend is almost laughable in its awfulness). The rest of the cast is made up of nobodies who are all either fat, grizzled, or just plain unappealing; Vulgar is like a ride through a freak show without a seat belt. Apparently the film ran into criticism because of its objectionable content. While there is no question that this is a tasteless flick, I can't imagine anyone thinking this is any worse than one of Smith's films (err...except for that whole clown "gang bang" scene). The only reason for fans to rent this woofer is because of the extra materials (see below paragraph). Otherwise, Vulgar lives up to its name, but its reputation leaves little to be desired.

Vulgar is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Since the film was shot on a fairly low budget, it's not surprising to find this transfer to be only mediocre. A multitude of imperfections show up in the image, including grain, dirt and a large amount of softness in the picture. While the colors and black levels are mostly sharp, overall this is an only so-so print. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, as well in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, both in English. While the 5.1 sound mix includes a few scattered effects in both the front and rear speakers, overall this isn't the most aggressive audio track ever recorded. Some distortion can be heard in the dialogue, though otherwise it's a clear soundtrack. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.

Surprisingly, the extra features on Vulgar end up being far better than the film itself. The cream of the crop is the documentary "Judge Not...In Defense of Dogma." Why this feature was included on this particular Kevin Smith disc is a mystery (that film was released by Columbia), but I am happy to report that it's here -- for those who want to know Smith's thoughts on his film Dogma and all the controversy surrounding it with the Catholic church, this is a great supplement to watch. With interviews by stars Chris Rock, Jason Lee, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and others, Smith and his crew inject strong arguments about why Dogma is more than just a series of "dick" and "fart" jokes (their words, not mine). Next up is a very funny commentary track featuring Smith, star/director/writer Bryan Johnson, star Brian O'Halloran, producer Monica Hampton, and executive producer/editor Scott Mosier. On par with his previous tracks, this commentary track sports Smith and his cohorts goofing off and just being just plain silly (and...well, vulgar). Not for the faint of heart, but very entertaining. Also included on this disc are a few pointless deleted scenes with an introduction by director Johnson, Smith, and a few other participants; a photo gallery; various trailers for other Lions Gate films (including Dogma, which confusingly sports a Lions Gate logo) [Editor's Note: Dogma was released theatrically by Lions Gate, but on home video by Columbia]; and a theatrical trailer for Vulgar.

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Scales of Justice
Judgment: 63

Perp Profile
Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)

* None

Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Deleted Scene
* Documentary: "Judge Not...In Defense of Dogma"
* Trailer
* Stills Gallery
* Film Festival Responses
* Production Commentary: Executive Producer Kevin Smith, Star/Director/Writer Bryan Johnson, Star Brian O'Halloran, Producer Monica Hampton, Executive Producer/Editor Scott Mosier

* IMDb

* View Askew