Okay, SO…Say John Waters, Ken Russell, Bruce La Bruce and William Friedkin were all at a house party together. No effing way THAT will ever happen, but just for shiggles, let’s say they are. Over plenty of booze, blow and maybe even a half-bag of crazy-ass mushrooms, they all try to come up with some kind of story to collaborate on and work it into a script. I imagine that, some twelve days and a few drug-induced seizures and marathon vomits later, it would look something like writer/director John Albo’s semi-coherent FLEXING WITH MONTY.
Coming in like some overly ambitious off-off-off-off-OFF-Broadway play, the moods shift from every few seconds to the next few. You think you might be about to see some wild hybrid of a New-York based gay porno loop from the Seventies, until it goes careening into CRUISING territory, only to bounce back again and introduce elements that would be right at home in either Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS, CRIMES OF PASSION or ALTERED STATES, though it’s not nearly as composed or as centered as any of those films. (You heard me!) It bears the subtitle “A Domestic Simphonie” (sp), and then defines ‘simphonie’ at the end as a kind of poison. Poison of a certain kind DOES play an important role in the so-called plot later on, but I could be a reference to the sickness of mind, body and/or soul that permeates the characters as well.
First, let’s be absolutely clear. The bulk of this seems to be a vehicle for the late actor Trevor Goddard and his admittedly magnificent frame. Less ‘enlightened’ viewers would assume that the whole purpose of this film’s existence probably comes from Albo wanting to fuck Goddard, the producers wanting to, or some investors looking for the most insane place to find a tax shelter for their loot. Whatever it is, if you know of the lead actor’s colorful and tumultuous history, then the fact that this was the final film released of his career actually makes a weird kind of sense.
The plot – what I could decipher of it – involves the physique-obsessed Monty (GODDARD), living with his younger, brainier brother, Bertin (RUDI DAVIS), who couldn’t be less interested in bodybuilding and working out if he tried. While Bertin is trying to complete earning his degree in graduate school, Monty is leeching off of his younger sib’s brain power, to help him become director of the college’s athletic department. Meanwhile, they engage in heavily incestuous and homoerotic flashbacks and behavior when they’re together, that almost makes you want to yell at them to GET A ROOM, ALREADY!
THEN, Sally Kirkland shows up as a nun that Bertin befriends. And things get REALLY fucking weird…including the kind of third act twist that only a movie like this would have. Ever wondered what it would look like if Sally Kirkland was naked and howling, squatting in the representation of a primordial swamp, laying eggs? Well, NOW you get to find out. And THAT might not even be the weirdest thing you’ll see in the whole movie.
I guess if I were to TRY and look at it from a more intellectual standpoint, I would say that Albo’s VERY absurdist piece is about the masculine and feminine sides of every man, and how they are in constant flux and continuously at war with each other, within his body and soul. Or I could just say that this is one weird fucking flick, that would probably go down better with a case of beer, some good weed and poppers, or whatever your choice of pretty poison is.
It feels like Albo adapted a play he either wrote or was in the progress of writing, because the sensibility of a play brought to the screen extends through not only the staging, but the production design itself. Monty’s “lair” is extremely Spartan, as would befit someone obsessed with workouts and their own body. Some of the machinery he uses looks ancient and arcane, maybe even built with his own hands. Bertin, on the other hand, lives in the ‘upstairs’ part of the house, which looks much more conventional. Conventional, that is, until he buys a “pet” – a scarred, Asian-appearing man locked in a giant birdcage, (PLEASE, don’t ask.)
If you ever have to select a film for someone at their request, and they specify that it always be “at odds with itself”, then this would be perfect to fit that bill. It goes from being religiously reverent to totally sacrilegious in the very next moment; from being weirdly homoerotic to jarringly homophobic (a gay bashing depicted during one of Monty’s “out-calls” is gonna be a real knee slapper for those NOT into that kind of thing), and from the worship of integral female figures in their lives (served up with plenty of incestuous, Oedipal innuendo), to out-and-out misogyny, (especially cringe-worthy is a scene in Act One, where the narcissistic Monty, unable to fuck his own ‘gorgeous’ body, takes his horny frustrations out on a blow-up doll, as a slideshow of pictures of himself flexing, drive him to orgasm – as if women – maybe ALL women, serve as nothing more than a hole for his dick to spurt into, while he worships at the eternal altar of himself).
I wasn’t even surprised to see Kirkland’s name involved here – she’s always been one to gravitate towards projects that are iconoclastic, to say the least. Davis as Bertin is fine as Monty’s foil, figurative (and sometimes literal) “whipping boy” and the object of his barely-hidden desires, and most of all, Goddard, who I take it wanted to stretch his acting muscles as well as his literal ones. He built his career on playing bad-to-the-bone Aussie thugs and villains, (though his whole demeanor was basically a put-on to get him more work – Goddard was actually born British.) It’s really difficult to tell from this where he ends and “Monty” begins, which I guess is a way of saying that he was perfect for the role, and did a fantastic job playing it.
In a less ‘gonzo’ setting, maybe he would have been able to prove to the world that he really WAS a capable actor, with some serious chops to go with his seriously ripped torso. But it was not to be. MONTY was released nearly seven years after his untimely death of a drug overdose, while he was in the process of an unhappy divorce. MONTY was the last film he completed before his demise; the last mainstream film he finished was PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL. The world will never know where, if anywhere, he would have gone after this film.
Let me know what YOU thought about it, if you dare to give it a chance. It’s not horror by any means, though it does have some horrific elements, (hence the comparison to the four directors I previously named). It MIGHT be art, based on the definition that art is different things to different people. But since nobody can be told what THEY think ‘art’ is, I will leave that for you to decide.
For the curious and the daring, here’s my head’s-up: I give it two-and-a-half out of five stars. The half-star is for everyone’s unwavering commitment to their strange roles, especially Kirkland and Goddard. If he had totally failed in his task to embody “MONTY”, this film, for me at least, would have been completely unwatchable, and I would have bailed a few minutes after the credits rolled.