Director: Kevin McVey
Writers: Kevin McVey
Cast: Andrea Jungert, Barbara Ann Kaye, William McNamara, Armand Hargett, Tom Sizemore
Running time: 1hr 46mins
The acerbic and unabashedly populist podcast Chapo Trap House is probably one of the most divisive shows on the internet. I don’t know a single demographic it doesn’t seem to split right down the middle (including the traditional left, who seem in equal parts disgusted and threatened by the project); but whatever your opinion on the show, their cultural analysis is usually bang on the money, both ideologically and practically.
One of the recurring pieces of advice they trot out to various cinematic atrocities seems common sense, but I cannot find a record of anyone else saying it, so I will just have to attribute it to them. One of the most important suggestions I think can be offered to independent filmmakers is that you should never, ever, have your script make an overt reference to a film that is better than yours.
This is a golden rule which many filmmakers happily trample all over, seemingly assuming that they are the exception, or that in some delusional sense their creation is actually an improvement on the work they are referencing. One recent example of this was seen when Chapo reviewed Louise Linton’s horrendous Me, You, Madness, which made overt reference to American Psycho – a film it mercilessly and uncritically ripped off.
Kevin McVey’s Nowheresville likely cost a good deal less than Linton’s shoddy effort – produced while her husband was the United States Secretary of the Treasury – but that is where the positives end. This is a protracted mess of a film, which centres entirely on a desire to remake Thelma & Louise – with ungainly side-orders of No Country for Old Men and Pineapple Express thrown in for good measure. The result is hideous creation, cobbled together from pilfered plot elements of tonally conflicting films, which limps on for the best part of two horrendous hours, and never comes close to delivering on the best aspects of any of the aforementioned works.
The film begins with Patricia (Andrea Jungert), an ageing waitress trapped working in a diner to apparently feed her embarrassingly old son – who, despite being referred to constantly as ‘Kiddo,’ resembles an emaciated Mark Wahlberg. After alleging that her repulsive boss has sexually assaulted her, Patricia is fired – but just as she hits rock-bottom (which is illustrated by her being unable to gift Marky Mark $200 to feed his weed habit), things take a turn. Patricia’s car conveniently breaks down in the desert, a few feet away from a dead man and a briefcase filled with money.
After calling her friend Brenda (Barbara Ann Kaye) for help, the duo elects to keep the money – much to the display of the bent copper whose laundering operation this was. As all hell breaks loose, the pair decide to go on the lamb, and head for Mexico – bickering along the way as to which of them is Thelma, and which one is Louise. The premise at this stage isn’t especially bad – a reimagining of Thelma & Louise with protagonists approaching retirement age is not offensive in and of itself – but the fact is, what comes next is a botched delivery of that idea, which seems to hope to borrow credibility from simply mentioning its superior source material. It is a cynical ploy in the age of Deadpool cinema, where audiences are routinely exalted not so much for media literacy as for simply recognising other products; “I know Thelma & Louise, and so do you? Aren’t we all smart! And don’t you love this film for reminding you how smart you are?”
I know at this point it is somewhat incumbent upon me to provide examples of how this film’s story is botched in its delivery. I am afraid that there are simply too many aspects which I could focus on to cover here; so, you will have to settle for two.
First of all, as mentioned, for a film which wants to emulate Thelma & Louise – a film known as a buddy road-trip – there is precious little time on the road, or examples of Patricia and Brenda bonding. Just as things seem set for them to set off, their trip is cut short by a pair of bungling henchmen, who have traced the suitcase the money was in to their hotel – No Country for Old Men style. Exactly why people who find cases of money in the desert never seem to decant the cash into a new receptacle is baffling – but also beside the point. While the situation seemed set for a semi-comedic pursuit across the country, our Thelma and Louise decide to flee to their own house – where our villains soon find them, and begin to torture them!
Considering before this, the henchmen had tried to capture them by impersonating a female housekeeper, and spent time arguing with their boss about his cheapness meaning their tracking device only updated on an hourly basis, this sudden, jerking turn leaves us feeling like we’re watching a different film. This particular plot is tied up quickly, with Patricia managing to shoot both her attackers – leaving their boss to do his own dirty-work.
Again, the pieces seem to have been positioned for some kind of more light-hearted japes with a semi-serious threat underscoring them – especially when the crooked Detective Clarke (Armand Hargett) kidnaps Patricia’s stoner-son, and begins singing him adult standards and the Mexican Hat Dance to threaten him. Indeed, Hargett’s brilliantly hammy interpretation of the situation suggests he is expecting the film to continue in this vein – however, a climax which features the brutal execution of two of Patricia’s close friends (including her self-styled Louise) again completely kill the potential for any such joviality.
Beyond the dire screenwriting and tonal dissonance of Nowheresville’s assorted themes, meanwhile, the second thing to point out is the film’s technical work is a catastrophe. Admittedly, Conrad Hunziker III’s cinematography is competent enough – shots are well composed, and make the most of the inexpensive yet majestic backdrop of the desert. Beyond this, however, almost everything is wrong.
Aside from Hargett’s scenery-chewing as the bad guy, there is very little to enjoy about the cast’s performances. In some cases, that is excusable, after all, they do not seem to have been given much to work with in the form of a script – but a great deal of the delivery is utterly wooden. It is hard to believe if there were more than one take that any of these would be the best one, and McVey does not seem to have spent much energy in trying to coax much more out of his cast.
This is especially pronounced when Tom Sizemore (who you may remember vaguely from Saving Private Ryan) manages to somehow hit a new career low as a flatlining Preacher. His charisma-free lecture warns our heroes about coveting wealth – a lesson they might have learned if his delivery hadn’t first lulled them into a sensory coma. If you were to come into this not knowing who he is (and there is a very good chance these days that that is the case) then you would undoubtedly think he was as seasoned a professional as the rest of the ‘talent’ on display.
Comical audio work also means the duration of the film sounds as though it takes place inside a tumble-dryer, while various clips of dialogue are played and replayed next to each other, further highlighting the likely ‘one-and-done’ approach to recording scenes. Meanwhile, stock sound files which should be used sparingly if at all to help illustrate where we are constantly take us out of the film. In the middle of the desert, the action is constantly undermined by what sounds like cave ambience – with a cavernous draft echoing over the dialogue – something further contradicted as a recognisable stock clip of a marsh bird is played on repeat to imply a confused flock of grebes has decided to vacation in the Mojave.
Thelma & Louise this is not. If the film were not so compelled to force that comparison, it would have been easier to overlook some of the movie’s rougher edges, and it might even have reached the lofty heights of a 1.5-star review – but having raised my expectations by referencing other more accomplished films, McVey finds himself hoisted by his own petard here.