Here he goes again, dissing another hard-working independent moviemaker. All Judge Bill Gibron can say is he's sorry—sorry for having to sit through this 90-minute mess.
"I love you…I hate you!…I don't give a rat's ass!"
Dan Lake is about to retire from his job as an evening news anchor, but he's already got his next gig lined up. The station has decided to pair him up with local gossip columnist Miss Gabby for an entertainment/interview show entitled Movie Celebrities. He sees it as just rewards for a noted career of Fourth Estate service. She sees it as an opportunity to heighten her visibility and bring more attention to her noted newspaper work. Upon first meeting, the two hate each other. Lake is a jerk and Gabby matches him in egotistical thoughtlessness. Naturally, neither one wants to compromise, but when ratings prove astronomical, the pair proceed to give it their professional best. Of course, everyone thinks the duo are in love, from station receptionist (and Lake's secret friend) Lulu to agitated producer Harry. Yet mention that emotion to them, and they fly off the handle with a suspicious rabidity. Hoping to parlay their success into more and more viewers, Harry splits them up, giving both Lake and Gabby their own shows. Of course, they flop. No one wants to see the two apart—at least, not in connection with their daily dose of tabloid fodder. But just like Oil and Water, this couple cannot and will not unite—or will they?
According to the old proverb, oil and water do not mix. Well, after watching the independent mess named after such a sentiment, it is clear that writer/actor/director Peter LaVilla and talent do not gel either. In fact, the two concepts repel each other so significantly that scientists should study them as a potential source of non-fossilized fuel (though in this particular amateur auteur's case, age may be a factor in determining overall energy efficiency). Sloppy, stupid, and without a single redeeming cinematic characteristic, this supposed romantic comedy is about as funny as a foot rash and as sentimental as a slap in the face. You can see what LaVilla is striving for: he wants to place two impossible egotists in a room together and argue that love will eventually bloom between the couple. They will have their pitfalls along the way, and individual hubris will put the kibosh on several potential points of passion. But in the end, they will come to realize that their overriding repugnance for each other is just a carefully veiled mask of affection, and a last-act denouement where they declare their undying ardor for each other will leave the viewer spent and satisfied. Of course, for any of this to work, we actually have to care about the characters at the center of the charade. Unfortunately, LaVilla makes both Dan Lake and Miss Gabby into the most mean-spirited, miserable mofos ever to stain a screen. It's like cheering for Bill O'Reilly and Anne Coulter to settle down and start spawning.
But the lack of consideration for our potential paramours is the least of Oil and Water's many moviemaking problems. First and foremost is the script. LaVilla may fancy himself a triple threat, but the only thing we have to fear from his scattered screenwriting is that it will actually get produced. He has no idea how to frame a film, lets scenes drag on without ever finding a flow, and digs up derivative dialogue exchanges where something new and novel is needed. In order to make the affair between Lake and Gabby work, they need to be more than angry, self-centered whiners. Yet in sequence after sequence, LaVilla uses complaints, argumentism, and bellyaching as potential pillow talk. Even worse, they're just as shrill to the people around them. When he interacts with the production crew on the Movie Celebrities show, the filmmaker's Dan Lake character is a nonstop set of nonsensical needs. He's so abrasive and arrogant we want to reach inside the screen and pull out his esophagus. Similarly, Gabby is supposedly a hot-shot gossip columnist, but her success has yet to translate into a modicum of personal perspective. When she's not complaining about her contract, she's grumbling over being dismissed and disrespected. Of course, she has no track record as a television host, and can barely make it through a single rehearsal without screwing things up, but that doesn't stop her from her vocalized version of entitlement.
Maybe in the hands of better actors these two heinous Entertainment Tonight-lite entities would be acceptable. But LaVilla is such a stiff it's like watching the corpse of a community college version of Ted Baxter play the part. His line readings are so awkward that you wonder if the man ever looked them over in advance before delivering them (he wrote them, remember?). On the opposite end of the pathetic performance spectrum is Rosemary Gore. Pitched high into histrionic overdrive in each and every interaction, she's like Veruca Salt married to Miss Piggy. She has one note to her character—call it "consistently annoyed bitchiness"—and can't avoid a massively mannered approach to every situation she must interact in. Granted, there are a couple of decent turns here. Nelson Page does a novel twist on the friendly fat man character as a sage-like newspaper editor, and Guy Camilleri deserves some manner of award for having to deal with LaVilla and Gore so much. Perhaps he can put into SAG for a kind of disaster pay or, at the very least, worker's compensation. The rest of the cast is innocuous, given very little to do in LaVilla's fractured fable. While his direction is barely competent, it does get the job done. The movie bounces along aimlessly, reaching points we don't understand and conclusions we don't care about. This is someone who thinks that they are making legitimate cinema. All they wind up doing is creating a meandering pile of manure.
While its cover art resembles something you'd find on a $5 DVD knockoff of a major theatrical title down in Chinatown, there is an actual company (of sorts) behind the DVD release of Oil and Water. However, Echelon Entertainment needs to learn a thing or two about the digital format before they even think about releasing this title to actual retail markets. The version this critic received was, apparently, a screener. It offered no other menu options other than "Play" and access to a trailer. The image was horribly murky and constantly ghosting. This could be the result of an attempted "video to film" transfer (something many independent copies do to "cinematize" a camcorder creation), or just some shoddy mastering. Whatever the case, the letterboxed presentation (around 1.78:1) is cloudy and indistinct. The colors are constantly shifting between bright and bland, and most of the details are indecipherable. Equally unimpressive, the Dolby Digital Stereo is slight and very flat. The dialogue is hard to hear, due in large part to the camera's internal microphone technology used to capture the sound. The score is also hindered by a horrible ballad that plays in the background like a male banshee's final death knell. The trailer is tacky, doing very little to sell the film and, overall, one gets the impression of a cheap, homemade package.
While there's nothing wrong with making movies for one's own enjoyment, said vanity project should also be viewed within one's own personal perspective only. After all, what entertains you may only infuriate the mainstream masses. In the case of Oil and Water, Peter LaVilla is guilty of making a movie that only his closest friends could love.
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