Recently, I pulled American Virgin and Hooking Up out of the DVDTalk screener pool, expecting them both to be subpar gross-out comedies with overacting and awful jokes. I was wrong: American Virgin was a slightly-better-than-mediocre comedy with some okay performances, and Hooking Up is so inept it transcends "good" and "bad". Most movies get divided off into positive and negative because there are elements to critique, but Hooking Up barely knows how to frame a shot, much stage whole jokes and embed them in a legitimate story. Imagine a film with the basic cinematography, sound quality, and framing of a YouTube short, listlessly meandering for an hour and a half before arriving at an arbitrary conclusion, and you have this movie.
For instance, Hooking Up doesn't introduce its characters. Instead, it just flat-out describes them. After an opening scene that briefly tricked me into thinking I was watching a legitimate movie, we get a series of freeze-frame "character bio" introductions where names, ages and three "likes" are typed onto the screen; it's the cinematic equivalent of reading a casting call. As for a plot, there isn't anything specific: three main characters named John (Parker Croft), Colin (Jim deProphetis), and Tyler (Ted Sangalis) try to hook up with various girls, primarily including Colin's sister April (Allyson Muņoz), Michelle (Leah Viens-Gordon) and Caroline (Alison Whitney). Oh, yeah, there are also three other actors in the picture, i.e., the names plastered on the cover: Brian O'Halloran is school principal Dr. Jordan (as well as Michelle's father), Corey Feldman is Caroline's cokehead boyfriend Ryan, and Bronson Pinchot is chemistry teacher Mr. Kimbal.
The film takes place over the course of a week, each day beginning with John looking up a crazy sex act on the internet and then the three guys getting into a related situation. Most of these scenes come and go without any noticeable impact on the viewing experience. It's fascinating: the film exists in that perfect void between amateur filmmaking and home movies: the director and actors almost know what they're doing, but obviously don't know quite enough. The only memorable parts of the film are deeply awkward and quickly unresolved, both involving Colin. Colin's character is listed in the ID-like intro as potentially being gay, or at least bisexual, but the movie adamantly refuses to resolve the issue. In one of the movie's most flabbergasting scenes, Tyler discovers a hole in the Colin's bathroom wall that looks into April's room. Having heard about glory holes earlier in the day, Tyler decides to try it out, and while April is not home, without any emotional hesitation, Colin goes into her room and does the deed instead. You'd think this definitively answers the question of Colin's sexual orientation (as does Colin's decision to pleasure himself while looking into Nicolas Cage's eyes on the Snake Eyes poster), but the next day Colin is back in pursuit of the girls along with his two buddies. There is even a scene where April denies knowing what a glory hole is or anything about the incident to Tyler, and yet, Tyler does not learn that it was someone else, nor, more importantly, that it was Colin; the movie cuts to another scene and when it cuts back, the subject has been changed. The other scene is the peak of the movie's gross-out gags. Logically, the whole point should really be Colin and/or April's reaction to it, but we only see Tyler dealing with the repercussions.
Another big mystery is what the movie's three name actors are doing here. At least Bronson Pinchot has a few scenes that make basic sense (fending off Michelle's insistent advances), but both Feldman and O'Halloran are given characters they're either too young or too old for (O'Halloran a 45-year-old principal -- he was probably 38 when the movie was shot, if not younger -- and Feldman as a 25-year-old college student). Even though he's more than a decade too old for the role, I suppose Feldman's character seems believable on the page: a womanizing frat boy who tries to score with every high school girl he meets. What isn't realistic is the escalation of abuse his sweetheart girlfriend Caroline puts up with as the movie goes on. At first, it's innocent stuff like ignoring her calls and demanding her over when she should be studying, but by the end of the movie, when she catches him in the middle of having sex with one of her closest friends and he responds by forcing the two girls to make out, there's no more believing her insistent "but I love you" pleas or caring about her heart breaking. As for O'Halloran, he simply has nothing to do. At one point, he tricks Pinchot into coming to a vegan barbecue while secretly sneaking fatty snacks on the side, but otherwise he's just kind of there, and the movie embarrassingly forces him to trot out an homage to his most famous role when Michelle scores 37 points in Scrabble.
Visually, the film looks like it was shot on retail video cameras, and not particularly great ones at that, not to mention there is no real lighting to speak of and the sound quality is often bad. These issues are an immediate indication of the level of professional quality in question; to look at it is to know it sucks. It also begs further questions of the movie's three C-listers: how much money could the film have possibly have paid them if the budget is this miniscule? Director Vincent Scordia adds insult to injury by tring to break ground in the art of off-screen comedy. Several jokes are either staged with the camera looking at an empty space previously occupied by the characters (like an empty hallway) or are just poorly framed within the shot.
There is one great, big laugh in Hooking Up, and it comes at the very end: the Caroline plotline ends with her running away from Ryan's house while a terribly sad song plays, and the movie abruptly cuts to credits. It's what someone I know would call an "art film ending", an unintentionally hilarious moment created by the fact that no viewer is likely to give a rat's ass about whether Caroline and Ryan work out their problems (if they care -- and that's an almost impossibly big if -- how could they not feel relief?), and because the movie hasn't summed a single thing up or arrived anything that could be called a conclusion. Then again, can a plotless movie even have an ending? Food for thought, I guess. The movie's working title was Clusterf---. I'm not surprised it didn't get past the MPAA, but it's too bad. It's a much more fitting title.
The DVD, Video, and Audio
Hooking Up arrived on a DVD-R in a paper sleeve, so I can't confidently grade the packaging, video and audio for this release. The final product should include a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and Spanish subtitles, although based on the film production quality present here, I imagine it won't look much better than this screener disc, which looks extremely poor.
Final copy, according to the listing at DVDEmpire, will include a behind-the-scenes documentary, interviews, deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, bloopers and pranks and an "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette, but none of these things are present on the version I have: all this disc contains is the movie's trailer.
On the outside, Hooking Up is a bizarre, unfunny mess, but upon closer inspection, it also looks poor, features some mildly famous people slumming it far below the level even they deserve to be working at, and scores its only big laugh at the very end by accident. Skip it.
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