Saturday, 24 August 2013

Happy Hour: The Movie

Director: Anthony P Azar
Writer: Anthony P Azar
Producer: Anthony P Azar
Cast: Crystal Louthan, Tonya Hall, Anthony P Azar
Country: USA
Year of release: 2006
Reviewed from: screener

Three slimeballs - two corrupt politicians and a corrupt judge - visit a bar for drinks after one of them is handed a flier on the street by a hot chick. The place is empty apart from the barmaid (Tonya Hall) until that same hot chick (model and backstage wrestling interviewer Crystal Louthan) enters. One of the men unsubtly approaches her and they head off together, leaving the other two men impressed and jealous.

One week later the two remaining slimeballs visit the same bar for drinks. The place is again empty apart from the barmaid until that same hot chick enters. The men discuss how they have not seen their friend for a week then one of them unsubtly approaches the hot chick and they head off together, leaving the other man impressed and jealous.

One week later the last remaining slimeball visits the same bar for drinks. The place is again empty apart from the barmaid until that same hot chick enters. The man ponders (in voice-over) how he has not seen his other friend for a week. Eventually, he plucks up the courage to approach the hot chick and they head off together.

Out in the parking lot, he discovers what happened to his two friends.

That’s the basic plot of this just-over-half-an-hour short film and if you think the synopsis is repetitive, that’s a deliberate ploy on the part of this reviewer to accurately reflect the film. Because, despite it’s short running time, this could easily lose fifteen to twenty minutes.

The opening scene, that’s fair enough, but we then get the whole damn thing repeated at full length twice with a progressively fewer number of men.

Anecdote time. Some years ago there was a British comedy show called Saturday Zoo and one week the special guest was Christopher Walken. Dressed in a colourful jumper, he read the story of The Three Little Pigs in his own distinctive way. It’s hilarious and a quick Google or a search on YouTube should bring up a copy.

After describing what happened to the first little pig, Walken got a huge laugh by summing up the next part of the tale thus:

“Pig two - same story.”

The point is that the audience can grasp that the same thing is happening without being shown the whole thing again. In fact, once we’ve clocked that this is a repeat of the previous scene we become impatient, waiting for it to finish so that we can get on with the plot. And an impatient audience is not an appreciative audience. Then - damn me - we have to sit through the whole thing again.

Which is a shame because, although this is clearly shot cheaply, director Anthony Azar has a definite knack with the camera. There is real skill and imagination in the direction including difficult, effective and memorable shots: viewing our protagonists through a glass or keeping the actors off camera to concentrate on their shadows. The individual shots are great but the redundancy of the second and third scenes detracts from them.

The other problem which Happy Hour: The Movie (not to be confused with the 2003 feature film starring Anthony LaPaglia) is that the ‘twist’, when it comes, is exactly what we expect, one of the hoariest old clich├ęs in horror movies. Not only that but what little impact it might have is let down by some of the worst joke-shop vampire fangs I have ever seen outside of a Jean Rollin movie. Oh, and the ‘twist’ is also given away on the Truth in Creativity website. Maybe it’s not meant to be a twist but in that case, what’s the point? We’ve been kept waiting through three variations-on-a-theme scenes, expecting some sort of payoff for our attention and unless that payoff is clever or surprising in some way we are bound to be disappointed.

This ‘revelation’ scene is followed by an entirely unnecessary (and extraordinarily long) epilogue in which three different slimeballs enter the bar in what is effectively a replay of the first scene. I assumed this would finish when they sat down at the bar, then I kept on assuming it would finish any moment now as the scene dragged on and on, adding absolutely nothing to the story and losing more and more dramatic impact with every line of dialogue.

We get it, all right already. Three more little pigs - same story.

Technically and artistically, bearing in mind the nickel-and-dime production values, Happy Hour: The Movie is highly commendable. The acting’s all pretty good (neither the hot chick nor the hot bartender chick has any dialogue) and it’s nice to see the use of actors of an appropriate age; many low-budget film-makers would have cast their twenty-something mates, irrespective of whether they were actually old enough to be politicians or judges. Craig Chamberlain’s other roles have included a ‘psycho father killer’ in Unforgotten Past and a ‘vampire serial killer’ in Body of Evidence.

One of the slimeballs is played by Florida-based writer/director/producer Anthony P Azar who is pretty much a one-man band although he has the good sense to disguise some of his credits, such as ‘special effects’, behind his company name, Truth in Creativity Productions. Azar also handled the camera and the editing and provided some frankly corking guitar music. A couple of the actors are among the ‘production assistants’ credited with help in the lights/camera department and the main other credit seems to be for Eric Emerick who assisted with cameras, lighting and some suitably unpleasant sound effects.

All well and good but it is, as so often at this level of film-making, the script which lets the side down, with four very similar scenes all played out to their full-length instead of being judiciously trimmed. There’s an old scriptwriting maxim which says that one should always start a scene as late as possible and leave it as soon as possible. There is simply too much dead wood in this film - but it could be fixed.

Scenes two and three both need some judicious editing and the epilogue needs a single snip of the scissors as soon as the audience has realised that we are watching the start of the story repeating itself with three new characters. (There is one other problem with the epilogue: two extras sat further along the bar whose presence is irrelevant - I suspect they might be investors making a cameo appearance in a film devoid of opportunities for cameos - and who actually spoil the scene. Surely the whole point is that this is an empty bar where the only people present are the two predatory women and their three slimeball victims.)

Thinking about it, there is also a script problem in the idea that the first three scenes happen at intervals of one week (indicated through unnecessary captions). Are we really to believe that a politician has disappeared and, one week later, the only repercussions is that two of his drinking buddies are idly musing where he is? The scenes would work better as consecutive nights.

I’ve been hard on Happy Hour: The Movie despite its promise and Azar’s evident talent because it doesn’t live up to that promise or support that talent. The script simply hasn’t been developed properly. A tight, ten- or fifteen-minute film might get away with such a clicheed central premise but when the film drags like this, audiences are less likely to forgive a revelation which can be seen coming from about five minutes in. Less is more is the nub of what I’m getting at here.

The screener included a long trailer for Azar’s Lloyd Kaufman-starring feature The Cops Did It which features many of the same actors and which I’d like to see, if only to judge whether the writer-director can construct a full-length story. On the basis of this one short (admittedly completed two years ago) my belief is that Azar is spreading himself too thinly and should devolve some of the work to other people, especially the scriptwriting.

MJS rating: C+
review originally posted 30th May 2008

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