You Move You Die isn't just a movie, it's Judge Kristin Munson's customer service philosophy.
"Action, Comedy, Profanity, Drama, Profanity…More
Written in a week and filmed in five days on a total budget of $50 thousand, 25 of that for the soundtrack, featuring novice actors and an iffy plot, You Move You Die is a movie that defies the odds. It manages to be somehow greater than the sum of its shaky parts by being a comedy that's actually funny.
Facts of the Case
Mike (Ketzal Sterling, High Octane: Detonate) has a big day ahead of him. He's got a diamond ring, a plan with his mates, and a date with the lovely Emma. What Mike doesn't have is some common sense because, even though he's set to meet up with his boys, he decides to take a quick walk to the store…and bring the ring along for company. Two minutes from home, and in spite of his Reservoir Dogs ensemble, he gets mugged.
With his appointment with Emma only an hour away, Mike and his buddy Rob (Julian Harrison, High Octane: Overboost) go roaming the streets of New Zealand, looking for the guys who robbed him. A lot can happen in an hour, and Mike's already proven what crappy luck he has, so it's no surprise that even with the added help of his equally shady mates Leroy (Patrick Clarke, High Octane 3) and Wax (Jonathan Allen, apparently busy during all High Octane installments) that Mike's day is only getting worse from here.
I knew three things going into You Move You Die. It was A) New Zealand made; B) shot in real-time; C) rated at a 2 on IMDb's 10-point scale. A and B were enough to trump C, or at least convince me I could make it through the hour and half run time, unscathed and insults at the ready.
My worst fears were confirmed after a messy beginning, with a cheesy fight scene and a nervous lead who stumbles over his lines and forgets to dial out before talking on his phone, but then the story got rolling and I actually started having a good time. Clearly, my exacting standards were slipping. So I went away, read Jane Eyre, came back, still funny. Damn.
Although the plot has holes, the script's humor disguises the fact that you're watching what amounts to an hour of what gangsters get up to on their down time, mainly driving around, running errands, and shooting the breeze and the occasional innocent bystander. Violent but not gory (blood packs were apparently not in the budget), the whole thing plays like a less esoteric Tarantino movie. Characters bring up restaurants, comic book characters and pop culture references, but the conversations are more realistic, the comedy more deadpan. Most of laughs come from the snide exchanges between Rob and Mike, who interact more like co-workers than co-conspirators, and knock out lots of quotes you can exchange with your pals. Because of the level of profanity, I can't mention half my favorites, but I'm eagerly awaiting the perfect opportunity to drop the words "knob jockey" into conversation.
The real strength of You Move You Die lies in the fact that nearly the whole thing was filmed in continuous Steadicam takes, some almost 10 minutes, so the longer the movie goes, the stronger the performances get. Actors have the time to get into a rhythm, toss off some improv, and interact with one another instead of delivering their half of a performance and having the best takes cut together. Some 24-style split screen breaks up the repetition, and the best scenes take place in the car as the actors are filmed while really driving from location to location.
Although Ketzal Sterling stars as Mike, he also threatens to implode under the collected backslash weight of writer/director/producer/fight choreographer. Usually someone with that many screen credits is ripe for an MST3K pummeling, but Sterling does surprisingly well. Sure, he tears into his lines like a pit bull, but he's still a competent performer, although not as enjoyable to watch as Julian Harrison. Rob is the sociopathic sidekick and Harrison plays him with a laid-back charm that shouldn't work but is somehow a perfect fit. It doesn't hurt that he looks like Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting. Sterling and Harrison get the majority of the screen time, and their natural chemistry goes a long way in filling out the real-time format.
Unfortunately, because You Move You Die was filmed on digital HD and on a tiny budget, it's hard to know whether the DVD's audiovisual flaws come from the source or Echo Bridge. The picture is an anamorphic widescreen presentation, but any scenes with super-quick camera action have the uneven flow of a pan and scan, like there weren't enough frames recorded by the camera. There's also the occasionally washed-out picture, where faces disappear in a white glare in direct sunlight and there's little difference between gold, silver, and beige. Half the film's budget went to the soundtrack, everything from throbbing techno to indie pop to Glenn Miller, and it's worth every penny. However, the 2.0 Dolby mix is off balance, so sound effects and songs that are meant to be coming from the car radio sound like they're 10 feet in front of the action. None of these things is enough to make the movie unwatchable, but it is distracting.
The sole extra is a behind-the-scenes featurette that was recorded long after the movie's completion. There's more banter from Sterling and Harrison, interviews with the other two leads, and some insight into the unusual filming process. Sterling tries to revisit filming locations as well, only to be thwarted at every turn by the fact that most of the places have been demolished or replaced.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The one major problem with You Move You Die is the background acting. The core cast's cumulative screen experience is some comedy bits in a series of performance car documentaries, resulting in some cringe-worthy line readings. They at least have a chance to redeem themselves; relegated to one-scene roles, the actresses turn in entire performances that are teeth-achingly stilted. With the resources to rope in Bruce Hopkins (Gamling in The Lord of the Rings cycle) and several other experienced male actors for small but pivotal roles, you'd think the casting director would have shown equal care in choosing the female talent.
On paper, this is a movie that shouldn't work, and yet I enjoyed it enormously. It's never going to get the Criterion treatment, but it's still a fun flick, despite the flaws. A couple of third act twists pave the way for a sequel that can't come soon enough.
Not Guilty. You gotta problem with that, knob jockey?
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