I've had many reactions to movies over the years, but Play Dead elicited a true rarity: complete and utter bewilderment. And I don't mean bewilderment as to what the plot was, who the characters were or things like the geography of scenes, what I mean is: who is this movie intended for? How did all of these actors read it and decide they wanted to do it? How did a co-writer/director (actor Jason Wiles, marking his sophomore directorial effort) with a completely nonsensical movie have the organizational and leadership skills to direct the final product? And most importantly, why did anyone buy it and offer to put it on DVD?
Wait, no, that's not true: I know why someone put it out on DVD. Someone -- in this case, Echo Bridge -- put it out on DVD because it stars the unbeatable combination of Chris Klein (who has already been in one of 2009's best bad movies) and former Limp Bizkit lead singer Fred Durst. That's right, the "Chocolate Starfish and Hot Dog Flavored Water" singer/songwriter-turned-director has now turned to acting, and the results are bizarre to say the least.
Klein plays Ronnie Reno, a washed-up actor (hmm) who found his most enduring fame on a TV show called "The Hero Team", playing the show's lead character, Blue Hero. Reduced to living in his former co-star's garage and stuck watching himself on "Where Are They Now?" shows, Reno heads out to a key audition and fumbles. Frustrated, he drives out into the middle of nowhere only for his car to break down, forcing Ronnie to walk around looking for help until he encounters Ledge (Durst), a quiet, mentally slow crossing guard dutifully standing around with his stop sign in case the town's yearly passerby happens to drive down the backest of back roads. Ledge offers Ronnie a ride into town, but they stop off at Ledge's house first, where Ronnie inadvertently discovers a dead body in Ledge's shower.
The character of Ledge is at the heart of Play Dead. He's essentially the catalyst around which every scene revolves. In addition, the character is also f---ing insane. As played by Durst, Ledge is a quiet, optimistic dim bulb who rarely has any noticeable reaction to anything, whether it be a gun in his mouth or Ronnie's refusal to have a beer with him. The only times Ledge gets excited are when he learns that Ronnie played the Blue Hero on his favorite television show and the time Ronnie tries to escape, which results in an intense, terrifying growl of slow-boil anger. Scenes like this, which are almost completely dark and hint at a gruesome, Vanishing-style end to Ronnie, are sharply contrasted against usually the dopey comedic ones that follow (in this case, a scene where Ronnie, handcuffed to Ledge, tries to take the keys and escape while Ledge sleeps). Most dark comedies are a blend of the two flavors, but Play Dead chooses to alter like a checkerboard: either it's funny or it isn't.
The checkerboard gets more confusing when one's scope is expanded to include the supporting characters, including Ronnie's Hero Team co-stars Devon (Michael Beach), Eddy (Dean Delray) and Marissa (Ayda Field), or Ledge's sister Carolanne (Sasha Alexander) and her daughter Blue (Annabelle Bitterman), and most importantly, her brtually violent gangster husband Ray (Paul Francis) and his sidekicks Merle and Dickford Jones (Jake Busey and Timothy Ryan Hensel). Each of these characters feels like they exist in an entirely different movie: the first group in a goofy comedy, the second in a warm but unremarkable romantic comedy, and the latter in a violent action movie. And apparently Wiles let them all go about their business, seemingly oblivious to the fact that these characters mix like oil and water, more concerned about getting a reasonable amount of vision into the picture and executing a few explosions here and there. Meanwhile, Klein gives one of his most workmanlike performances: not good, not bad, just in the middle. There's a touch of ineptitude whenever the actor (character) is called onto give one of his "riveting" performances, but other than that, he just shows up, delivers his lines, and vanishes.
So what do I say about Play Dead? Apart from the script, taken individually, none of the incongruous elements that comprise the movie seem all that bad (at best, pleasant; at worst, uninteresting but not quite boring), and the result is a baffling jumble of a movie heading in multiple directions that ultimately goes nowhere. I suppose sometimes you make a movie just to try and exercise your craft and hope that everyone else isn't showing up with the same mentality, and in this case, it didn't work out. Echo Bridge only sent a screener of this movie. Maybe the final product will come with Cliffs Notes.
The DVD, Video, Audio and Extras
Unlike some of the discs I've been sent, Play Dead states right up front that the DVD I viewed is not representative of final product (hopefully, anyway -- the image quality on this disc is shockingly bad). My copy is a DVD-R in a paper sleeve, containing a 1.85:1 non-anamorphic presentation with no subtitles or bonus features.
Um...? Skip it, I guess...unless you want to try and solve a cinematic puzzle.
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