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At one time or another, we've all been guilty of thinking that, if committed to film, the antics and inside jokes of our circle of friends would make the most hilarious comedy ever. We're all wrong. The vast majority of us sober up, let the thought pass, and get on with our lives. Writer-director Vincent Buckley and producer Kyle Buckley had the temerity to follow through on this universal delusion. The result is the spectacularly unfunny Jake's How-To, an independent feature constructed of a rehashed plot, phony dialogue, hackneyed gay jokes, and subpar acting.
Stop me if this sounds clichéd: Aaron Cox is a sadsack mope who lives with a closeted Jew and is heartbroken over his ex-girlfriend. Aaron is involved in a Milwaukee beach volleyball league where he takes dating advice from his overbearing team captain Jake, who believes that the way to a woman's heart is treating her like a doormat. Supposedly comic antics ensue as Aaron proves painfully unsuccessful at scoring using Jake's system. Along the way, we meet Aaron's circle of stereotypes, er, friends: the roommate who wears silk shirts and says "dude" all the time in order to hide his homosexuality; the ponytailed dipshit who loves to talk about anal; a Christian fundamentalist who, for reasons unknown, has electrical tape crosses over his nipples and a Flock of Seagulls hairdo; the black guy; and beach bum Jake, who looks so much like William Zabka that he could have a lucrative career as a teen movie douche bag if it was still the 1980s. Aaron's great epiphany is that women don't, in fact, like to be treated like doormats. Via this astounding piece of information, he comes of age and manages to forge a relationship with an attractive volleyballer named Angie. None of us is the better for it.
Oh, and there's also the requisite volleyball tournament showdown in which Aaron has to find his groove and play at the top of his game so that he can realize his dream of dominating the vaunted Midwest beach volleyball circuit.
Comedy is tricky. It requires sharp writing, a keen eye for human behavior, and thespians with a sense of timing. Jake's How-To has none of the above. It's ill-formed from top to bottom. Jake's tactics for scoring women are so generic and lacking in wit ("treat them like shit" is one of his three points) that it makes Mike Damone's Five-Point Plan from Fast Times at Ridgemont High look like the Rosetta Stone of dating for cads, a subtle and ingenious methodology for manipulating women. Since Jake's How-To book is the rickety foundation upon which all of the film's comedy rests, nothing goes well—nothing. The flick's brilliant gags include approximately 150 instances of "you're gay" or "that's so gay." Hilarious. The actors struggle with the material, either over- or underplaying every line of dialogue. Aaron is such a nondescript lead that we never care whether or not he sorts out his romantic difficulties. Angie is introduced so late in the picture and is such a generic beach girl that Aaron's epiphany has zero emotional or narrative weight. It is the ending required by genre convention and nothing more.
Despite the low quality of the writing and the performances, the Buckley brothers shot the movie competently. Shots are well-composed and the lighting is decent given the limited budget. The DVD transfer has the fluctuations in detail and color accuracy one expects from a movie shot on DV with mostly natural light, but it is a solid piece of technical work for an independent, self-financed picture. The stereo audio mix is decent if unspectacular.
Supplements include an audio commentary by Vincent and Kyle Buckley, a trio of outtakes, and a collection of trailers.
Jake's How-To is a good technical show reel for the Buckley Brothers. The young duo shows plenty of potential. As a story, it's entirely predictable. As a comedy, it isn't the least bit funny.
Guilty as charged.
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