DIRECTOR’S CUT (2018)
Director: Adam Rifkin
Writer: Penn Jillette
Stars: Missi Pyle, Penn Jillette, Harry Hamlin, Hayes MacArthur, Lin Shaye
Modern technology. It’s advanced so much now – and is still rapidly changing and mutating every day – that there is no longer any excuses for anyone who wants to explore their creative side, not to go out and make the kinds of movies they want to see, at will.
But what happens when a socially-inept, mentally-unstable crowdfunding hobbyist with huge ‘delusions of grandeur’ decides that he wants to do just that? Well, director ADAM RIFKIN and his writer/star, PENN JILLETTE (yes, that Penn) have all your answers in DIRECTOR’S CUT, one of the darkest, funniest, skeeviest meditations on fame, fortune, fandom and celebrity since Scorsese’s THE KING OF COMEDY.
The ‘film-within-a-film’ that kicks off the plot is titled “KNOCKED OFF”, another standard cop thriller that features HARRY HAMLIN (CLASH OF THE TITANS, MAKING LOVE, L.A. LAW, etc.) HAYES MACARTHUR (LOOK, SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE, SUPER TROOPERS 2), and LIN SHAYE (if you don’t know where she’s from, you’re probably in the wrong place.) Hamlin and MacArthur are Winters and Reed, respectively, a pair of your usual ne’er-do-well fuckups on the force, now tasked with hunting down a serial killer, whose signature is recreating the crime scenes of everyone from Albert Fish to Jeffrey Dahmer, but with once-live fresh victims instead.
Not a case their captain (Shaye) expects them to be able to handle without help. Enter MISSI PYLE (GALAXY QUEST, CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, GONE GIRL and way too many other things to mention), as “Mabel”, the FBI agent/liaison who’s supposed to be helping them work the case.
But let’s take a look at what’s going on just beyond the filming, shall we?
Herbert Blount (Jillette) is in love with his “muse”, Missi – the actress, not just the character she’s playing. As an avid crowdfunder of many things, but mostly movies, he’s dreamed practically forever of making Missi his “co-star” in his own film. And now, he’s got his chance!
When we first meet Herbert, besides being the chief narrator of his own “version” of KNOCKED OFF (the “Herbert Blount Director’s Cut”), he’s given a lot of money to the production via a crowdfunding campaign, which apparently has entitled him to appear in the film in a “featured” role (he gets one line), and to have a lunch date with his ‘enamored’.
But, convinced that this arrangement and this film isn’t good enough for either him or Missi, Herbert decides to take matters into his own hands…and makeshift home studio. For the next ninety minutes or so, welcome into the twisted and terrifying mind of Mr. Blount. Get comfy, because you WON’T be leaving for a while…and neither will Missi/”Mabel”.
The brilliance in DIRECTOR’S CUT lies not only in its ultra-‘meta’ concept, but the SPINAL TAP-worthy performances of Jillette, Pyle, Hamlin, MacArthur, and the many blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos, featuring some established and pretty beloved genre icons, some of them contemporaries of Ms. Shaye. It couldn’t have been all that hard to convince these actors to climb on board a project with Penn Jillette as the star.
Which begs a question: Does Teller, his partner in stage crimes and misdemeanors, have a role in this? I will not answer that question here, but allow you to see for yourself, since that might be the biggest and best surprise of the entire film.
But this isn’t simply a wryly grim meditation on fame, fortune, fandom, fantasy and everything that comes and goes with it. As one of the coolest, smartest celebrity ‘nerds’ that we know and love, Jillette fashioned this as a kind of “love letter” to the Herbert Blounts of the world, whose heart, enthusiasm and can-do spirit is as admirable as the wrong-headed, totally fucked up way they expedite their dreams to try and make them into reality.
It’s always great fun to watch stars like this take pokes at each other, but mostly at themselves, and nobody holds back in this, especially Jillette and Pyle in their scenes together, which range from the downright gut-busting, to the deeply, creepily uncomfortable, even though there’s lines they never cross here (THANK GAWD!)
Shout-outs have to be made here to DP SCOTT WINIG, editor DAN FLESHER and the visual effects team helmed by ADAM CLARK and GRETCHEN MCNELIS, for not only giving “KNOCKED OFF” the typical B-movie action look-and-feel it required, but then also having to go in and give “Herbert’s Cut” of that same film the homemade, crude, fitfully funny vibe that makes the entire film work in the first place.
DIRECTOR’S CUT, as a movie turned down by all the majors, has the pedigree to become a cult classic in the same vein as THE ROOM did – except that this film is intentionally funny and creepy where it’s supposed to be.
With fingers crossed that it finds a fiercely loyal audience, this one gets a strong three-and-a-half out of five stars from me!