The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico, the 2005 Canadian mockumentary from writer/director Michael Mabbott, frequently feels likes it's just ready to take off, to actually become funny or musically entertaining or maybe even just a tiny bit meaningful. But constant undercutting of the material - material that isn't particularly new or humorous or interesting to begin with - keeps the film firmly grounded. Wasted opportunities abound, with scenes stopped well before their intended payoff, while viewers are left scratching their heads, wondering what the hell's the point of The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico. Loading up the film with legendary country music figures like Kris Kristofferson, Ronnie Hawkins, Levon Helm, and Merle Haggard, and then abandoning them with only the faintest of comedic set-ups, only exaggerates the film's sense of aimlessness and waste.
Purportedly telling the fictitious story of outlaw Canadian country legend Guy Terrifico (Matt Murphy), The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico uses the standard documentary framework of past friends and enemies reminiscing about Guy and his work, while mocked-up "vintage" footage of the musician is interspersed. The supposed satiric twist of The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico is that Guy - who's obviously based in part on the real-life country/rock fusion legend Gram Parsons - never manages to cut a single album, yet becomes world famous for being a drunken, coked-out party animal who may also have been one of the generation's best musicians.
Starting off life as Jim Jablowski, the musician forms a band (the Cabbage Roll Boys) and sweeps through the Vancouver music scene. On the verge of cutting his first album, Jim wins the lottery, and instantly takes on the trappings of a rich, decadent rock 'n' roller, without having done anything in the way of "paying dues" to earn such a lifestyle. Buying a funky bar, he quickly becomes a focal point for other traveling outlaw bands and musicians who marvel at Jim's ability to get seriously screwed up, as well as at his nascent talent that seems forever held at bay by constant partying. After getting kicked in the head by a mule after a particularly debauched evening, Jim wakes up and insists he's now Guy Terrifico (as with most events in the movie, the writer/director fails to explain or make comedic hay out of this seemingly incongruous moment). Free from responsibilities because of his money, Guy continues to simultaneously impress and piss off music legends like Merle Haggard ("Great music; just a turd of a person") while never actually cutting an album. Shot down dead during a concert, after he had supposedly sobered up, the legend of Guy Terrifico grows, particularly when thirty years later, a strange letter with just the words, "Bring it back home," starts being delivered to Guy's friends, indicating that maybe Guy isn't dead after all.
The biggest mistake The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico makes is that the central character, Guy, isn't particularly interesting or funny enough to hold our attention. Building his supposed mythos up with commentary by his friends and enemies, who constantly tell us how "wild" he was (but which is fatally never shown), while relegating Guy's actual appearances to small snippets from "vintage" documentary footage, keeps the character distanced from the audience. We never actually care about him, or his exploits, because frankly, we don't know who the hell "he" is supposed to be. Instead, we're stuck with guys like Haggard and Kristofferson trying to sell us on this fictional character, with the director hoping that their own star wattage will be enough to convince us that we're watching something much funnier or meaningful than what's really on the screen.
It doesn't help that potentially funny scenes are constantly cut off right before their payoff. The "Nashville Incident," a notorious moment in Guy's life where he supposedly offended a square, Christian family gospel group on their live TV show, is a perfect example of the director's inability to deliver the goods. Much anticipation is generated by suggestion that we're finally going to see Guy wig out, but the scene, like most in The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico, peters out with a whimper. And there just isn't enough funny material in The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico to warrant all this generated expectation and tension. So many people speak of Guy's crazy, unhinged behavior, but what's eventually delivered on screen pales with our own imagination, inevitably letting us down time and time again. The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico doesn't have the stones to really go all out in its comedic vision of showing us just what it's constantly teasing us with, instead opting out for safe, derivative, juvenile humor like women breaking wind on stage, and Guy humping a drum kit. Too bad, too, because some of the music in the film (largely composed by star Murphy) is quite nice. But even with that, we're rarely allowed to hear a complete song, so like with everything else in The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico, the audience is left frustrated and unsatisfied.
The widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 TVs, 1.78:1 video image for The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico looks good, with solid hues and good values. Of course, there's a ton of grain during the "vintage" shots, but that's the intention of the filmmaker.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 Surround mix is more than adequate for the film; too bad we didn't get to hear those songs in their entirety.
Three deleted scenes are included here in The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico DVD release: The True Gram Parsons Story, Ophelia & Guy, Jr., and The Truth About Guy Terrifico. They add about as much to the film as the included scenes. There's also a seventeen-and-a-half minute interview, Kris Reminisces, where he talks about old times. The filmmakers shouldn't have included this footage, because he's such an interesting storyteller, it instantly makes you regret wasting your time watching the fictitious Guy Terrifico story. There's also a song by Kris included here, The New Mr. Me.
There's not a whole lot of point in wasting your time watching The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico. The music is truncated; the comedy is stale and infrequent, and the intention of the enterprise is fatally obfuscated. Skip The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.