Chump Change (alternately titled Fame, Fortune, Cheese and Beer) is the first directorial effort by Stephen Burrows, and it's more or less the story of his life. In short, the plot itself revolves around Milwaukee Steve (Burrows) and his amazing adventures in Hollywood. After a somewhat unsuccessful tenure which resulted in a series of commercials for 'Crotch Fresh' (a jock itch powder), he returns to his hometown of Milwaukee. However, the real story here is told in a series of flashbacks to his time in Hollywood.
Most of you won't really recognize Burrows from his earlier acting efforts. He's appeared in a few minor roles in earlier films and TV shows, and has even appeared a few commercials himself (Selson Blue, which would explain the whole Crotch Fresh thing). His first attempt behind the camera isn't bad, and offers a decent amount of laughs and sharp satire. However, it's pretty obvious that the movie suffers from a few glaring problems.
First of all, it's somewhat inconsistent in both acting and execution. First of all, the performances were spirited, but some of them fall flat. As for the good parts, the highlights include Stephen Burrows himself, as well as Tim Matheson , Clancy Brown, and Anne Meara. However, other performances don't work so well, such as the efforts of one Traci Elizabeth Lords (yes, the adult film star). Some of her gestures and delivery were so awkward and stiff, it was hard to believe that she wasn't reading right from a cue card. To the film's credit, though, the good performances really outweighed the not-so-good, and most of the dialogue and comedic timing was very sharp and energetic.
While the directing itself was competent, it must be said that Chump Change suffers from a very odd sense of pacing. The order that the film is told in (flashbacks, etc.) doesn't do much for the story, and really seemed like a needless decision. Although some of the situations are very over-the-top, this story has a very straightforward and honest sense about it that begs for a more traditional style.
On a sidenote, this movie was actually completed a few years ago (2000, I believe), but has been long-delayed on DVD due to studio intervention. Whether they felt it still needed work or not is debatable, but Chump Change is now finally available on DVD courtesy of Miramax/BuenaVista. While the movie itself is a bit spotty, I think you'll agree that this DVD is well-rounded and presents the movie in the best possible light. At its heart, Chump Change is a decent first effort by a man who really seems to go against the traditional grain of the Hollywood movie machine, and that's a plus in my book. The audio and video are well-done, and there's a good amount of extras that really show how much the director believes in this movie. In any case, here are the details:
Quality Control Department
The video quality is excellent, and really makes the most of both settings in the film. The cold Milwaukee landscapes look excellent, and the busy Hollywood scenes look warm and colorful. Everything looks as clean as a whistle, and blacks are solid too (although a few very dark scenes are a little murky, but that's almost to be expected). It's a great-looking effort, and should please any viewers of the movie.
The audio sounded clean and clear, as a recent movie should. Presented in Dolby Digital Surround, everything came through perfectly fine for this dialogue-driven movie. There isn't tons of surround activity, save for ambience and the occasional music cues. Overall, there are no complaints here.
Menu design and presentation:
Menu design is simple and straightforward, and focuses on the Hollywood setting of the film (although the navigation choices are shaped like Wisconsin). The actual packaging is pretty dull, though…although I liked the cover image, it didn't really represent the movie well, in my opinion. There's no insert, and the disc itself is the typical Miramax dull gray design (would it kill them to add a bit of color?).
This disc actually contains a good number of thoughtful extras. The movie itself is supported by an Audio Commentary with Stephen Burrows, who eagerly condenses many personal stories and experiences into the movie's brief running time. He isn't afraid to admit his mistakes, and frequently does so. It's refreshing to hear a director who isn't above a little humility, and makes this a good listen. Next up is a gimmick I guess had to be done at some point…the Director's Commentary on the Director's Commentary, which is basically Burrows poking fun at his own commentary track. It runs for less than a minute, by the way. Also here are a series of Deleted Scenes and Outtakes, with optional commentary by Burrows. It's easy to see why the majority of these were cut, as they don't add much. Next up are Focus Group Lo-Lights, a brief session with Burrows which highlights some amusing focus group comments from the test screening in February of 2003 (3 minutes). While some of these comments are genuinely funny, it's another case of a joke that goes on a little too long. The last major extra is A Conversation With Traci Lords, who provides a nice chat with the director in a picturesque outdoor setting (13 minutes). Is it just me, or is she completely unable to pick a hair color and stick with it? Anyway, last but not least is the movie's Theatrical Trailer, which easily deserves a red band for its language and nudity. Overall, a pretty nice mix of supplements.
Should anything else have been included?
Nope. The extras here fit the bill nicely, and some of them (like the audio commentary) were actually more enjoyable than the movie itself.
Chump Change wasn't a bad effort, but it obviously needed some additional ironing out. When the credits roll at 83 minutes and the director still admits some scenes need trimming, you know there's trouble brewing. There were a few good laughs, but the glaring problems with the pacing occasionally become distracting. Still, I've really gotta give writer/director/star Stephen Burrows credit…he really gives his all here, and tries hard to please his fans. Additionally, the commentary track for the movie is wonderfully honest and down-to-earth, and one of the better ones I've heard recently. Overall, this DVD from Buena Vista is a great effort, with good audio/video and some creative extras. If you're a fan of Chump Change, I'd recommend this one…but everyone else should definitely Rent It first.
Other Links of Interest
Traci Lords…ahem…"Filmography" at IMDb
Randy Miller III is a part-time cartooning instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.