Monday, March 10, 2008

Indie DVD: 'Drop Box'

Video Store Clerks
Movie
DVD

We’ve all had at least one of “those” jobs. They involve a series of mundane tasks, and almost always feature interaction with the general public and their associated dregs. The pay is low and the desire to move on is high. This common scenario is ripe material that everyone can relate to. Drop Box is an attempt to capitalize on one very familiar setting (a video store) by mixing in someone not so mudane or typical: a national celebrity. The result is a mixed bag low budget effort that kinda works, but is undone by story contrivances, a confined location, and an abrupt ending.

Incognito pop star “Mindy” (Rachel Sehl) accidentally returns homemade sex tape to a local video rental store. Once cynical clerk Tom (David Cormican) finds out, the game is on, and Mindy will stop at nothing to get the tape back and save her career. Will Tom give in to her demands, or sell this Golden Goose on eBay?

Let me first say that it is always a nice surprise to see a microbudget movie that cares about the way it looks and sounds. With YouTube desensitizing everyone to a lack of quality, I am grateful that writer/directors Anesty and Spiros Carasoulos put real effort into lighting and cinematography. Drop Box looks really good. Shot selection is impressive despite a few self indulgent angles from the bottom of bags or behind clothing. The sound has a few issues (some sync problems, ambient noise cutting), but is only mildly distracting.

The problems begin on the conceptual level of the scripting and the confines of the story. Drop Box is set entirely inside the video store, and if you are going to go this “one location” route, your writing had better be fantastic, since we are essentially watching a play transpire. Well, this film has some good pacing and funny dialogue (Mindy: “What’s a good romantic comedy?” Tom: “There aren’t any.”) but can’t sustain itself imprisoned in that store (the repetitive musical cues didn’t help either). I so desperately wanted them to get out so the story and characters could breathe, but they never do (even at the end, which would seem to present that opportunity).

When the setup is presented, I had two questions. How does someone who claims to have sold “50 million albums” escape the omnipresent paparazzi to go visit a podunk video outlet? Then, when Tom refuses to give her the tape, where was her bodyguard or other entourage member that could easily beat Tom silly? Drop Box bites off more than it can chew with this scenario, and I never really believed it.

The script comes from the Kevin Smith School of Frank Sexual Talk, with a lot of profanity and conversations about male and female body parts (the store has a porn section, so we get to hear a lot about that). It’s a bit much, but never sinks to the level that Smith often goes to. Some of it is funny, but I often felt like Mindy was being victimized by Tom who comes across as more of a stereotype to her thee dimensions. I also felt cheated by the ending, which is set in motion with an unbelievable event--then just ends.

The acting trickles down from very good to passable. The leads are excellent, with Cormican and Sehl trading verbal barbs with verve and chemistry. Cormican almost plays Tom too well, as the script paints him as a know-it-all jerk. I liked his performance, but didn’t care for him much as a character. Sehl is just plain electric, transforming her bitchy teen queen into someone you really care about. She has a very honest face, and her delivery feels genuine. The rest of the cast is hit-or-miss with child actors who come across like amateurs to great bit parts like the the psycho customer played by Cameron Sheppard (“Watch your mouth--and your back.”).

The DVD is the bare bones variety, with nothing but the film included. This is a real missed opportunity, as I would have loved to have seen some interviews with Cormican and Sehl, as well as some behind the scenes stuff. I always enjoy watching what the filmmakers went through to frame their project (which is often more interesting than the film itself), but here we get nothing. I was informed by email that every cent of the budget went into the production, but how much could a director’s commentary cost? Maybe next time.

Drop Box is a curious mix that never quite worked for me. The acting is the highlight with Rachel Sehl proving she is one to watch. The filmmaking is good, and I would watch another movie from the Carasoulos camp. I just hope their next flick is not so crass, has multiple locations, and knows how to end itself.

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