From the blatant to the obvious, Hollywood is founded on the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." From the subtle to the obvious (think Deep Impact and Armageddon), the film industry feels that the best way to know what the audience wants is to wait until something makes money, and then keep doing it until it doesn't make money anymore. From this mentality is borne films like Adventures of Power, a film with clear aspirations for the same "outcast hero"/"quirky indie" throne Napoleon Dynamite claimed in 2004.
Power (Ari Gold) is a a man with one thing on his mind: the incredibly unsubtle art of air drumming. He scrapes by with a crappy job at the local mine where his father (Michael McKean) works, and lives with his aunt (Jane Lynch). Times are tough, and when the mine workers decide to go on strike, Power strikes out on his own, eventually landing a job in an NYC noodle shop while he trains for a major air-drumming competition. For plot-convenient reasons too boring to recount, the competition will pit him against pop icon Dallas Houston (Adrien Grenier), the son of the man who owns the mine.
Most people will recognize the name "Ari Gold" as the most famous character from Grenier's show "Entourage". I'm not sure what the connection is between the real life Gold and his HBO counterpart, but Grenier is the common link, and although I don't want to say that favors owed are the primary reason the movie exists, it's definitely a bit suspect that Grenier is allowed to riff to his heart's content as an obnoxious supporting character while the film's laundry list of comic talent is left playing second fiddle to Gold. Anyone signing up to see anyone besides Gold or Grenier make an impression is pretty much out of luck: the only actor to inject a noticeable pulse into the film is Shoshanna Stern (whom many will recognize from "Weeds") as the deaf girl of Power's dreams, while performers like McKean and Lynch waste away in thankless, plot-heavy roles.
As for Gold, it's not that the actor, who looks like Sharlto Copley's twin brother, is all that grating or obnoxious as Power, just that the character is almost completely lifeless. Not an "SNL" movie goes by without the complaint that the film is a one-note joke stretched across ninety minutes; Adventures of Power is a no-note joke, if it's a joke at all. Even when Gold starts mugging for the camera (which is fairly frequently) or he kicks into high gear on his beloved air drumming, Gold's effort as an actor just fails to register. Gold's screenplay is the same story, offering no reason to invest in the mine workers' plight other than the fact that it's happening to the film's main characters. When a bus full of armored thugs show up to beat up Power's father, his resolve is basically meaningless, and most audiences will be more exhausted than energized by the prospect of a third-act competition.
Lots of movies get made every year, and the majority of them will no doubt be attempting to capture the same lightning in a bottle as whatever fad is passing through multiplexes at the moment. What's shocking about Adventures of Power is not that the film fails to top the (fairly low) bar of the various films that led to its existence, but that the whole experience, despite all its quirkiness, is so blandly uninteresting. For a film supposedly celebrating the unique, oddball outcasts of the world, Power lacks any noticable shred of personality, borrowed or otherwise.
Phase 4 offers Adventures of Power with colorful art highlighting the film's critical praise and ensemble cast. Worked on me. No insert is included inside the eco-friendly Amaray case (the kind that uses less plastic rather than holes).
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Adventures of Power looks underwhelming on DVD. Colors are vivid, and it looks like a new movie, but on closer inspection, a distracting softness and artifacting rear their head. Most viewers will probably only worry about the colors anyway, but a modern movie could and should be sharper and less muddled than this. Dolby Digital 5.1 audio lends itself mostly to the numerous drum-heavy classic rock songs that pepper the soundtrack and the occasional ambience of some dingy club than anything. No English subtitles are present, but for those with caption-friendly televisions, the disc is closed captioned.
Oh, agony. There are a great deal of video extras offered up on this disc, and every one of them is a pain in the ass. Not because they're all terrible, but because someone working at Phase 4 has never heard of the term "Play All". Eight deleted scenes (0:55, 3:15, 2:20, 2:14, 1:02, 0:48, 1:18, 1:19), three music videos (1:41, 5:15, 3:38), two Neil Peart Clips (24:34 and 3:00), four Power Shorts (1:46, 3:15, 4:21, 1:08), and three Ari Gold short films (1:15, 12:15, 21:33) are all included on this disc, and they're all listed individually, each requiring its own click of the remote for the viewer to take in. Most of these clips are also sourced from a number of websites, primarily the Adventures of Power official website, so each deleted scene and promo is encased in screens trying to convince the viewer to see the movie they've already watched. For the most part, it's wildly mediocre stuff, like the film itself, but drum fans might enjoy the Peart interview, and Gold's short films are occasionally interesting. The special features page is rounded out by "Postcards From the Set", which is, of all things, a DVD-ROM extra.
Under the setup menu, there's one more extra, a full-length audio commentary by Gold. He mentions he's recording the track while amidst the film's promotional tour, which seems like an unwise idea: right from the beginning, well-worn soundbytes start popping out of his mouth, primarily the one where he explains the entire movie was based on the idea that "air drumming looks funny". Hmm. Like his character, he's not the most engaging speaker, and I quickly found myself reaching for the remote to skip around. Not surprisingly, Gold slows down a little near the end, but if you're really interested in the nuts and bolts of Adventures of Power, it's probably the most worthwhile of the extras. The commentary is also conveniently subtitled in English, which is a nice touch.
Trailers for I Do & I Don't, Boxboarders, and Adopted play before the menu. Three more trailers (one real, two fake) are included on the special features menu, and yes, they're listed individually.
A day before I sat down to review Adventures of Power, a critic I follow on Twitter called it the worst movie he'd ever seen at Sundance. While I didn't hate it nearly as much as he did, it's a well-meaning but basically lifeless piece of cinema which manages to seem deeply indebted to a single source yet completely uninspired at the same time. Skip it.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.