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Sasquatch Gang, The
The rise of cinematic dork from laughing stock to leading man has been one of the most interesting developments in the post-millennial motion picture paradigm. While they've always been labeled losers, our decision to embrace the undeniably geeky can be traced back to the '80s. During that reckless, high concept age, John Hughes took the nerd and made him (or her) into a semi-likeable reflection of the actual high school pecking order. Since then, society has come to embrace the dweebish and the dolty, if only in recognition of how the tweaked control existence from a technical standpoint. You got to love the guy that can program your PDA, right? Ever since Napoleon Dynamite took the feeb nation by storm, filmmakers have been looking for the next big spaz smash. Some thought it would be Eagle vs. Shark. They were wrong. Now The Sasquatch Gang is stepping up to try for klutz cult classic status. It just may succeed.
Gavin Gore and his pals Hobie Plumber and Maynard Keyes love to hang out and play swordfight, creating mythical names and ancient ritualistic rules for their cardboard and duct tape battles. Bored out of their minds and desperate for something to happen in their small Pacific Northwest town, their days are spent avoiding the local bully Shane Bagwell, their nights at the local arcade and fun palace - either that, or renting a favorite fantasy film from the local Mom and Pop store. Gavin has another reason for visiting the retail VHS outlet. The clerk behind the counter, a shy girl named Sophie, is a "fox" in his eyes, and he's anxious to date her. Of course, this causes friction with his friends. While hiking in the woods one day, the gang discovers Bigfoot tracks - and one helluva skunk ape turd. Immediately getting the police and the local newspaper involved, the pals think they've made a major discovery. Even famed Sasquatch expert Dr. Artimus Snodgrass is coming to investigate. But what everyone doesn't know is that this may not be a legitimate find. Seems notorious potheads Zerk and Skins may have something to do with the sighting. After all, there is money in Bigfoot paraphernalia, and when it comes to cash, these beer swilling simpletons are always in need, and cooking up some scheme.
Here are a few things that The Sasquatch Gang (formerly known as The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang) is not. It is not a laugh out loud funny caricature of certain identifiable social misfit archetypes. It is not a perfectly measured means of showcasing actors using restraint to define their performance. It is not vaguely realistic or ambiguously recognizable, nor do we fail to see ourselves in every adolescent obsession, every shirtless bong water wastoid moment. No, what The Sasquatch Gang really is defies simple description. At its core, this is one of the best, most insightful films about everyone's awkward stage ever created. While the dialogue doesn't crackle with lines of undeniable wit, what we do get are sentiments so perceptive, so tuned into what it's like to grow up isolated and angst ridden that you'd swear writer/director Tim Skousen was using his own Trapper Keeper diary as a source of material. While his status as First AD on Napoleon Dynamite might lend him some social outcast cred, Sasquatch really isn't about the marginalized. Instead, Skousen has crafted a clever look at how we become adults, about how we find comfort in our own skin and value in our outrageous obsessions.
Sad thing is, most people will mistake this movie for Nappy 2, and as a result, will leave wanting more quotable dialogue and less satiric coming of age. The biggest disappointment will probably come from the appearance of Justin Long and Joey Kern as preternatural slackers Zerk and Shirts. Metal-heads magnified several decibel degrees, in a constant state of hygienic, hemp, and nutritional flux, this duo should be the raucous reefer madness in the movie, the constant source of unrepentant libido and 7-11 sustenance. Instead, they are constantly usurped by the rest of the cast, shown as the overacting element that they are. It's not just that Long sounds false whenever he opens his mouth, or Kern plays quiet passive priss to the point of distraction. In a narrative that borders on the cartoonish and crazy, these two go way, way over the top. They constantly drag us out of the story, and pose questions (How do they live? Where do they get their money? Why aren't they dead yet?) that Skousen never intends to address. Even worse, the rest of the company is so perfectly poised, so expertly expressing Sasquatch's insular ideals that it makes Long and Kern look amateurish by example.
Still, in such a fantasy backdrop where nothing is really taken as authentic, we accept their hobo histrionics and move on. Besides, the friendship/falling out between Gavin, Hobie, Sophie, and Maynard is handled so adeptly that the smile beaming from your face will more than make up for Shirts' lisped logic. From the sword and sorcery fixation that seems to grab all pre-collegians, to the sensational 'date' where Gavin tries to impress Sophie with his Street Fighter skills, there is not a wrong beat here. Even the more arcane facets - our hero's home video rental business, the cookie cutter bullies - don't destroy the sense of personal déjà vu. For anyone who ever fixated on Tolkien, who took the playing of Dungeons and Dragons to ridiculous extremes, for the kid who mastered Donkey Kong but couldn't get a date to the big dance - heck, for any kid who felt unstuck in their own town and time, The Sasquatch Gang delivers. It doesn't matter if all the parts don't gel, or that some story strings (the Bigfoot angle) are reduced to running gags. This may not be the funniest film of the year, but it sure is the most astute - and that's a rare cinematic accomplishment indeed.
With an eventual DVD release date sometime in March, DVD Talk was provided that most dreaded of items to review - the preview screener. While packaged like the actual final product (including detailed cover art), the tech specs remain suspect. So take any information you read in the next three sections with a huge grain of cinematic salt. The image appears anamorphic, though it's unclear whether the aspect ration is 1.85:1 or 2.35:1. There are black bars across the top and bottom of the transfer, and even on a computer set up, the telltale boundaries appear. As for overall look, the colors are bright and radiant, the details definite and clear. Depending on what happens come an official release, this could be a very good digital presentation.
Again, who knows? It could be Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, or even a wider, more ambient 5.1 mix. Either way, the dialogue is discernible and easy to understand, and the random indie pop tones sound pretty good. Still, for those wondering how their high end home theater will respond to the encoded audio package here, this critic can't help you. It's Screener-ville, after all.
Here's the weirdest part of this preview DVD. The cover art says there is a commentary and some deleted scenes. There are only deleted scenes. Some have time coding. Some do not. In addition, there is material created specifically for the film - news footage of the Bigfoot story and sequences from the nature show helmed by none other than Apollo Creed himself, Carl Weathers. None of this is mentioned on the packaging. So, in the haphazard world of prerelease reviewing, who knows what the final product will provide.
Under the right circumstances, within the proper set of expectations, The Sasquatch Gang could be a monster hit. It offers a window into a world weird enough to make film snobs smile, while those who see their reflection in Gavin, Hobie, Maynard, or - God help us - Zerk and Shirts will drink in the heady humor draught. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, this is a wonderful little sleeper that has the potential to be much, much more. Falling somewhere between the outright wonders of Napoleon Dynamite and the downbeat dregs of Eagle vs. Shark, this satisfying little spoof confirms that geek cinema is here to stay. Until another marginalized group comes along and steals its pocket protector thunder, nerd-sploitation will continue to have its supporters. As long as they are as knowing as The Sasquatch Gang, it will remain a healthy source of humor.
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