Aiming at the wall and hitting it with a blunt dart can be a refreshing tactic, as writer/director Ash Christian shows with his goofy, loping comedy, Mangus! An homage to the trailer-trash films of John Waters, and other lowbrow comedies, Mangus! lacks the willingness to horrify in the way those Baltimore greats do, but still pulls the laughs and love in easy fashion. With an overall attitude that can best be described as lackadaisical, this movie is a fine companion for those nights when you want laughs you can trust.
Mangus (Ryan Boggus) has one or two simple desires; he wants to know exactly what his name means - his parents told him in Latin it means 'wise one' or something - and he wants to play Jesus in his high school play, just like his daddy did, and his daddy before. The road to greatness is not so easily traveled, though. Mangus' dad ships off to Iraq, leaving Mangus with his evil stepmother. Mangus must also contend with the director of the play, (the hilarious Leslie Jordan, well known for playing Beverley Leslie on Will & Grace) and discriminatory practices in casting their show, 'Jesus Christ Spectacular'.
Complications just keep piling up for poor Mangus, but this ode to Mobile Home Park culture doesn't much care, which is a rare treat. Instead of trying too hard to shock, Christian and crew resort to things like sincere characterizations, authentic feeling relationships, and a matter-of-fact approach to all the decrepitude. Boggus plays Mangus as a slightly smarter, but equally short sighted Napoleon Dynamite-type guy. He's wholly committed to snaring his part, but sees no problems riding around in a wheelchair, strapped into the back of a pickup truck, while drunkenly cruising strip clubs. His holy fool mien makes him the perfect foil to all the whack-jobs in his life, even as he maintains seemingly real relationships with his dad, stepmother, stepfather, mother, and sister. Mangus' stepfather Buddy (Peter S. Williams) plays a pivotal, super-funny role. Barely older than Mangus, Buddy mentions to his stepson, "your mama can chimichanga like the wind, boy," before leading him into a night of debauchery, all pulled off with sleazy, almost-dangerous aplomb by Williams.
Though it never reaches anywhere near the lows of a John Waters movie, his spirit suffuses the movie - so much so that Waters contributes a brief cameo as Jesus. As with Waters, Christian shows love to the lowly; his characters' decrepit lives, questionable morals, and overall pathetic hopelessness doesn't make them the butt of cheap jokes, the humor rises naturally from their circumstances. Presenting everything with good nature and a love for his characters, Christian brings dignity to the puke jokes and colostomy bags. By the time things wrap up with a few minutes of performance from 'Jesus Christ Spectacular', you get the movie in a nutshell: One number is effortlessly bizarre and hilarious, while the next is oddly sincere and clumsy. Mangus! represents a kinder, gentler trailer trash comedy, easy-going and funny, it lacks the cynicism of 21st Century shock-comedies. It's almost revolutionary.
A 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen presentation sits in the center of your screen with black bars above, below, and to the sides. There's an average amount of detail and clarity, with highly saturated, keyed-up colors. I couldn't find any serious compression problems to complain about, considering the low-budget nature of the release, though minor things like aliasing will show up on bigger HD screens.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Audio and 2.0 Stereo Audio are your available audio tracks. Both tracks are serviceable but nothing too fancy, owing to the movie's place as a low-budget, dialog-driven comedy. Overall, the dialog is distortion-free, easy to discern and mixed well with music on the soundtrack, though there isn't a whole lot of pizzazz to be found.
A Director's Commentary Track features Ash Christian's insights into low-budget filmmaking, etc. and is a funny, entertaining listen. A seriously homemade-looking Making-Of Featurette runs 10 minutes, and the Trailer (plus a handful of other Previews finish things off.
Mangus! is styled after John Waters' Baltimore comedies, with a contemporary twist. The twist is, the movie isn't as shocking we want it to be, while possessing a warmer tone. As Mangus overcomes numerous obstacles in his quest to play Jesus in a high school musical, much weirdly natural sleazeball humor flows. It's drolly outrageous and on-message at the same time, delivering a refreshing feel. Fans of Independent Comedy can consider it Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com