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Wah Do Dem

Other // Unrated // October 25, 2010
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted November 29, 2010 | E-mail the Author
Wah Do Dem:
Me nah know, man, but it's a bet that workin' up some ganja is part of that equation; "wah do dem" being a little bit of Jamaican patois that loosely translates as "what are they doing?" It's something of a plaintive call, which is a perfect title for this shambling Indie drama of a young man lost in Jamaica. I'll demonstrate my ignorance here to speculate that Wah Do Dem fits into the genre known as 'Mumblecore'; at least this rambling, virtually aimless bit of a movie seems a perfect fit for the style, as its characters basically smoke plenty weed and mutter unintelligibly while outlining an ambiguous, nearly-non-existent dramatic arc.

None other than Andy Warhol, with his movies of people sleeping, might be to blame for films that have no narrative, but where his most outré efforts challenge conventions with zero pity, Wah Do Dem represents a pleasantly entertaining idyll that at least hints at growth, if you care to look. Writers and Co-Directors Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner set their hapless protagonist Max (Sean Bones) adrift immediately. Cut loose by his girlfriend (Norah Jones in the shortest role to ever merit headline status) on the eve of their big adventure, the irritatingly self-satisfied young man must figure out what to do with his prize, a contest giveaway cruise to the Caribbean. Unable to score a replacement cruiser, he goes it alone. Yet at the very first port-of-call Max becomes separated from clothes, wallet, passport and ship. With only his shorts remaining, it's up to Max to figure out how to get back home.

It's a ripe-enough conceit, full of opportunity for human connections and all other forms of crowd-pleasing mumbo jumbo, but Chace and Fleischner run in the exact opposite direction. Filming with handheld verity, they follow Max through various disconnected levels, not the least of which is the already alienating atmosphere of the cruise ship, a bizarre place in which to find oneself, especially if alone. Mildly effortless observational humor comes from Max's cheeky behavior while onboard. With his mug perpetually stuck in an affect of dumbfounded contempt, he flirts with an onboard photographer, chats uncomfortably with other cruisers, and generally acts like a spoiled child with no clue about what to do with himself.

So far, so acceptable - especially for anyone who's had the absurd pleasure of cruising. Yet when Max's great adventure on the island commences, things should take off. Like Max's bemused sense of entitlement, the movie merely does the minimum needed to make it to the end. Max is like many privileged young men who've made it to the age of majority, but have miles to go before they grow up. This is where viewers who insist on scratching past the pleasantly hypnotic surface of the movie will run into trouble. Is Max's perilous journey a transformative event, or is it the grand equivalent of walking home when your car breaks down?

Though taken advantage of, menaced with knives and looking ridiculous as he shoelessly pads through ghettos, Max mostly plays it straight and dull. He dirty dances, smokes pot and plays soccer when such opportunities present themselves, but never works up any kind of lather. Even a spiritual journey granted Max by a wise old man is met mostly with irritation and rote compliance. I argued with my wife that Max certainly must have grown a bit on his travels, though no evidence to this point is given. Perhaps it's enough that we both had a fine bubbling ride, following along without risk or reward, and came to no longer hate Max by movie's end. Maybe Max will figure it out when he hits his 40s, or maybe this will only boil down to a tale to tell his friends at a party, killing 10 to 20 minutes as necessary.

The DVD

Video:
Our Screener is a professionally made check-disc, so this information may be deemed accurate but not reliable. Or something like that. At any rate, the 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic picture looks rather nice for what it represents, that is, a mostly handheld, likely digital video production. I noticed very few compression artifacts or other problems, the only one of any note being occasional motion-blur. Colors are rich and fairly naturalistic; detail levels aren't fantastic, but good enough for the job; and the overall effect is one of heightened digital crispness that will grate the eyeballs of true cinephiles, but otherwise isn't too distracting.

Sound:
I have no indication of audio processing, but we are at least talking about Digital Stereo Audio in English, with plenty of subtitles (but not enough) for characters that speak an impenetrable patois. The mix definitely favors music over dialog, which I take to be partly stylistic, and partly due to the manner in which the film was made.

Extras:
Plenty of extras in a similar vein pepper the disc. Big Boat Ride is an amusing 11-minute short most likely shot on the same cruise, which mines more existential humor from the cruising life. Congos features 5 additional minutes of a Rastafarian band jamming on a Jamaican hillside. A one-and-a-half-minute Deleted Scene goes deeper into an uncomfortable encounter Max has with a fellow cruiser. An odd mini-documentary, Recording A Recording takes 10 minutes to follow a Reggae musician's journey from the factory room in which his 45RPM record is pressed to other realms. It's as unfocused and pleasantly digressional as the rest of the movie. Suckers burns a four-minute music video from a Stateside Indie band. Sun and Moon is a four-minute-long music video montage with scenes from the movie and other odd stuff, and lastly Likkle David rambles for 8 minutes as the title musician jams with a friend.

Final Thoughts:
Wah Do Dem twists the Indie/Mumblecore movie movement around a large Jamaican spliff, allowing man-boy Max to grow slightly as he trudges through Jamaica on a mission to get home. Ultimately not much happens, while any form of narrative arc collapses in upon itself. I suppose that's more-or-less just like life, and if you groove on the current generation's fumbling attempts to extract meaning from a world gone wholly ambiguous, you'll have a real fun time with this movie, which is Recommended.

www.kurtdahlke.com

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