Rarely does a movie make Judge William Lee feel like he's been kicked in the face.
Twelve friends. One great summer. Soon, they will be legends.
First-time writer-director Scooter Lammey's Kicking the Dog concerns the last great summer that a group of friends—some college graduates, others hopeless hangers-on—spend together before parting ways. For this comedy to work, viewers are required to suspend their disbelief on a number of fronts. Let's begin with the fact these are supposed to be college grads: their level of conversation is that of idiotic teens, they never talk about their career plans and we never hear of what they studied. As for their last, unforgettable summer, it can be summed up as hanging out at their friend's parents' house, playing cards, telling sex stories and drinking beer. Even more incredible is that the lead characters, poster boys for piggish, doofus behavior, have hot girlfriends that are crazy about them. This story of sex-obsessed young people spending the week at a quiet house in the country really would be greatly improved with the inclusion of an unstoppable serial killer.
Lammey's script takes its inspiration from any horny teenager movie where the hero's quest for meaningless sex leads to a profound self-discovery. There's an even heavier influence from Kevin Smith's Clerks in that Lammy fills the void of action with countless pages of sexually frank dialogue. Unfortunately, the sex talk here is juvenile and boring; the trajectory of the hero's story is obvious and unconvincing. The bar is set low from the opening scene where a character recalls having sex with a woman who has a third nipple. The slack-jawed guys debate the different possibilities of this fantasy scenario while the girls dutifully roll their eyes and keep their mouths shut. This scene is meant to be shocking and funny but it just manages to be stupid. The other sex stories that must be endured, told by both boys and girls, cover topics such as group sex, anal sex, sex with fatties and so on. It gets tiresome really fast and the only thing remotely interesting about these stories is how ridiculously misogynistic they are. It doesn't get any better when the script tries to be deep. A scene where the boys and girls, in separate groups, have parallel discussions about the opposite sex is remarkable for how simple-minded it is.
Satchem (Jarrod Pistilli) is the uncharismatic protagonist of the movie. When he's the center of attention—"Hey, Satchem, tell us about the time you had sex with the ____," one of his high school sycophants will prompt—he's beaming like he's left a big turd in the toilet for someone else to discover. He also gets a handful of quiet moments where he sits and pouts because the prospect of never seeing his friends again really gets him down.
The rest of the characters each have one trait to define them. Matt (Carl T. Evans) will screw anything that moves. Julie (Elizabeth Schmidt) is Satchem's tolerant girlfriend who wishes he wouldn't brag so much about his sexual experiences. Schmidt's role is inadequately written but she is the only one among the cast who shows acting potential. The rest of the characters are an assortment of virgins, sluts and varying degrees between.
According to the movie's official site, Lammey shot nearly the entire movie at his parents' house and then edited it in his bedroom on a newly purchased computer, learning the editing process on his own. Certainly, the results on display support that statement. Scenes are adequately assembled so that there is a sense of a sequence of events taking place but there is a lack of momentum to drive the action forward. Rather than finding something to link them together, a scene ends only so that the next one can begin. To transition between scenes, there's an overuse of the fade out and a misuse of the cross dissolve. These are visual tools that say something about the passage of time when conventionally used, but here they draw attention to themselves for the confusion they create. Speaking of conventions, the establishing shot is crucial for informing viewers on where the action is happening. This is especially important when all the filming is done at one location that is supposed to stand in for several. Unfortunately, the movie feels trapped in the walls of this one house.
The cinematography is quite professional. The lighting is decent and shots are generally well composed. However, the movie can't quite shake its cheap look due to the bland art direction and limited sets.
We received a screener DVD for review so we can't accurately comment on the technical presentation of the movie. From what I saw, the picture was clean, the colors pleasantly rendered and skin tones appeared natural. The retail DVD is expected to have a 1.78:1 anamorphic picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio. I can't imagine what the soundtrack would gain from a surround mix though.
Kicking the Dog is a less-than-respectable first effort from a novice filmmaker. Everyone has to start somewhere, I suppose. Let's hope Scooter Lammey learned more from this experience than the fact that desperate actresses will show their boobs.
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