Kevin Smith's Clerks. is a minor masterpiece of low-tech, do-it-yourself filmmaking. It takes Smith's real life perspective from behind the counter of a New Jersey convenience store and transforms it, using his ear for dialogue, into something witty and enjoyable, and even if the man's busy tarnishing his legacy these days picking fights on the internet, his influence on modern independent cinema remains. At least, I'm guessing it does, because there's nothing contained in X's and O's that indicates there was more to the project's "idea" process than a writer/director (in this case, Kedar Korde) who decided that the romantic ups and downs in their own life were worth exaggerating, re-arranging, and capturing on film. Oh, if only it were true.
It might be a stretch to call Dante and Randal "likable", but they were relatable. Korde seems to think his characters also qualify, except each of them has at least one grating personality trait. Our protagonist, for instance, is Simon (Clayne Crawford), a lab technician who remains blindly smitten with the super-superficial Jane (Sarah Wright), who essentially uses Simon as a doormat on which to clean her shoes of whatever douchebag she's just finished dating. The way Jane actively manipulates Simon using his obvious love for her is not subtle; you could probably put the phrase "She's Just Fucking With You" in all caps on a light-up rooftop billboard and it'd be less blatant. Given the obviousness of her evil, the audience can't really feel bad that Simon is missing out on his "dream girl"; instead his mopey pining for such an unlikable person makes it hard to enjoy being around either of them.
Enter Trese (Judy Marte), who works at the same lab as Simon. The moment she walks on screen, you know she's Simon's actual future, and the best thing I can say about that is that the movie wastes no time getting to it (I don't know how I'd have made it all the way through with my morale intact if Korde had attempted to string things along for the entire length of the movie). She's a feminist, which, in the case of this movie (and many other movies of its ilk), means she recites beat poetry, and is not immediately swept off her feet by Simon's supposed attempts to romance her. Marte gives a fairly charming, low-key performance, but Korde has other things in mind than focusing completely on their courtship.
The plot spins lazily in several directions, most of which are too tiring or complicated to explain here. The biggest complication is that despite a happy relationship with Trese, Simon is still tempted by Jane. In scenes that the audience sees and Simon does not, we learn more about her plot to play Simon like a grand piano. Korde must think the film needs a villain, because even before the film explicitly states she's trying to torture Simon, there's nothing entertaining about what an awful person she is. Just like before, the unintentional side effect of showing us that she really is cruel and hateful is that we lose sympathy for Simon, only this time, we have Trese to think about. Jane's actions around Simon are so blatant that they cross the line from "you're only fooling yourself" to "what are you, an idiot?", especially given that he has Trese already, and because Trese is a perfectly nice person.
Like too many films these days, this and all of the movie's other threads slide downhill until all of them arrive at a stopping point. Not an ending, mind you, just a point at which the movie's threads are finished and there's no more story left to tell. Flipping the DVD box over, the baffling tagline "The most pirated indie hit of the year!" stares back at me. A little Googling reveals that the film (made back in 2007) was basically a financial failure until it hit a peer-to-peer site and started generating its own buzz. In this world, we take what we can get, but a stamp of approval from people who deemed it necessary to steal the movie in order to watch it strikes me as some pretty backwards validation.
X's and O's arrives on DVD with weirdly colorful cover artwork depicting a grinning Crawford and Wright on it. Having seen how evil her character is in the film, this seems kind of weirdly misleading, but maybe I'm just biased because I hated Jane so much.
The Video and Audio
Well, this is a DVD-R of a low-budget film. The 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is probably satisfactory for most people who would actually like this movie, but there are compression artifacts and mosquito noise all over the place.
Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is equally unimpressive. It attempts to use all the channels, but has a flatness about it that it can't shake. Still, the dialogue is audible. English subtitles are also provided, and while people with vision problems might not like it, I appreciated that they were a bit smaller than usual and didn't take up the whole screen.
I couldn't make it through more than a few minutes of the disc's audio commentary, which basically consisted of Kedar Korde and one of his producers making lame gags. Beyond that, video features include a painfully unfunny gag reel and a few deleted scenes, and Korde's extremely pretentious short film, Love's Rapid Transit, the meaning of which was lost on me.
The film's original theatrical trailer and festival trailer are also included.
X's and O's is a pretty dull attempt to make a romantic comedy made worse by a lead character that makes decisions the audience has every reason to believe are stupid. Beyond that, I didn't even mention Jimmy (John Wynn), an annoying-as-hell wanna-be gangster type who sprays awful hood lingo all over the place before the movie decides to try to make the viewer feel sorry for him, or the heartstring-tugging and dramatic integrity Korde tries to introduce with Simon's best friend Lorenzo (Warren Christie), or Kel Mitchell's few scenes as a DJ. Skip it.
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