Judge Gordon Sullivan entered his indie film on the chile pepper festival circuit. The competition's less intense.
Two salesmen. One boat lot. No mercy.
Comedy is a great genre for independent filmmakers, perhaps second only to horror. I suspect that's because comedies are often created in the screenplay stage, where independents can take as much time as they'd like, as opposed to horror (which requires special effects) and drama (which often requires more talented actors). Comedies are also generally easy to sell with an "elevator speech." Take, for instance, Man Overboard, which can be summed up in a single sentence:
The owner of a used boat lot (Matthew Kaminsky) that is struggling accidently hires a sociopath (Mel Fair, The Recorder) who will stop at nothing to make a sale.
It's a simple, slightly ridiculous idea that seems ripe for some nautical/salesman comedy. Hopefully, I'll be forgiven for being skeptical about the film. The DVD cover is a goofily photoshopped poster of the two leads, which does not signal high production values or attention to detail. The first act of the film didn't exactly get my motor running, either. C.J., the owner of the boat lot, is a typical nice guy (although atypically he's a nice guy who can also sell well), and his employees are a rather obnoxious bunch of stereotypical schmucks. The setup—his father-in-law pressuring him into buying a house he can't afford—is a little overdone, and things just weren't clicking. Then Johnny, the sociopath, comes to work for C.J. From then on the movie is firing on cylinders as we watch, both gleeful and aghast, at the lengths Johnny will go to for a sale. The gradual buildup of Johnny's tactics consumes the second act, until he finally goes too far. From there the film focuses on C.J.'s attempts to get rid of Johnny, which culminates in a "sale off" between the two rivals. Those final moments are what make this indie comedy. Without sacrificing the fairly light tone the film has taken, the ending packs quite a bit of emotional weight while neatly tying up the film's loose ends. It's an impressive display all around.
Also surprising for an indie comedy, everything technical is top-notch, from the actors to the camerawork and music. None of the cast is particularly famous, but they're all experienced in TV or voice acting. The camerawork is solid without being flashy, which works for a comedy. Finally, the music is more than just a generic score, and instead features a number of songs that fit the tone of the film without sounding cheesy or forced as a cross-marketing necessity.
After watching the film, I checked out the official Web site, and noticed that the blog mentioned that Man Overboard was roundly rejected on the festival circuit. These rejections got me thinking about what might be wrong with Man Overboard, and after a little thinking I figured it out: much like its antagonist Johnny, the film is really two conflicting ideas in one package. On the one hand, Man Overboard is a little too "out there" to go mainstream. Johnny does some pretty nasty things, there's a bit of sex shown, some curse words, and some rather obvious use of a vibrator. All of these things add up to limit the mainstream or family film aspects of the movie (even if they're all funny scenes that I'm glad were included). On the other hand, the film isn't quite "out there" enough to gain cult acceptance like, say, Swimming with Sharks. Johnny's a bad dude, but he could do worse, the cursing could be more inventive, and a little nudity probably wouldn't hurt. The film seems like it's trying to please both family audiences and a more hardcore crowd, but I think both groups will leave just a little unsatisfied with Man Overboard.
On the technical front, I received a screener of the film with no extras (and there's no indication on the Web site if the production DVD will have them, either). However, from what I saw, Man Overboard looks and sounds good, with strong colors and audible dialogue. I certainly hope the DVD gets some extras, because the team behind this film seems genuinely invested in it, and I'm sure their experiences will give them something interesting to say.
As the astute reader might have guessed, my feelings about Man Overboard are mixed. My honest recommendation is to put the film near the top of your online video rental queue and hope that someday it will be randomly sent to you, keeping anticipation or expectations low. Barring access to online rental, pick up the film with a few others for a Friday night marathon, again to keep expectations in check.
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