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BADSVILLE (2017) review

March 10, 2018

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written by: Benjamin Barrett and Ian McLaren
produced by: David J. Phillips and Douglas Spain
directed by: April Mullen
rated by: unrated
runtime: 97 min.
U.S. release date: December 1, 2017 (limited) and February 6, 2018 (VOD, Amazon)

 

Right from the start, “Badsville” turned me off with its hoaky narration coming from a weasely-voiced tough guy that sounds like he was weaned on gangster movies from the 40s. Although I was curious as to what tone the movie would take on and how the story here would play out, the way it opened didn’t build my confidence in it. It took a while to buy into the vibe director April Mullen is going for, which is essentially an update on an old-school street gang yarn – the marketing even describes it as a movie that follows a “greaser gang” in the titular “slum town” – and after a while there were good moments between some of the actors, but ultimately this is a story that ultimately doesn’t bother with doing anything original with familiar material.

The story takes place within the course of a week and follows Wink (Ian McLaren), one of the leaders of the Badsville Kings, a gang that has withheld a longstanding feud with the Aces.  A volatility remains between them, as Wink shows signs of  wanting to get out from under the shadow of gang life, something he promised to his mother, who recently died of cancer.  This is news that makes sense to veteran, Lucky Lou (Emilio Rivera), but it doesn’t sit well with short-tempered Benny (Benjamin Barrett), Wink’s childhood friend and continuously angry righthand man. Enter Suzy (Tamara Duarte), a tough local young woman that catches Wink’s attention and could solidify his desire to walk away from the gang life once and for all.

 

 

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The tension between waring gangs takes a back seat to predictable character drama, leaving the drama for the escalating in-fighting between Wink and Benny. Therefore, we we barely see things from the Aces point of view, just a brutal beating that veteran gang banger, Mr. Gavin (Robert Knepper “Prison Break”), dispenses on his son (Paul James Jordan) who’s unsuccessfully followed in his father’s footsteps. It doesn’t matter, since the main gist of this story lies in certain questions have been mainstays in gang dramas for decades – will he make it out alive? If so, how and at what price?

When I learned that “Badsville” was a supposedly brutal Los Angeles-based gang flick, led by a white dude in a wife beater with slicked backed hair, I immediately thought of David Ayer’s “Harsh Times”, which benefited from a gonzo Christian Bale in the lead. This is in no way that film and understandably so, considering just about everyone involved is relatively new to the genre. Mullen helmed 2016’s “Below Her Mouth” and has also directed television episodes of “Wynona Earp”, “Imposters” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” and her work here is good – with some fine production design with Jordan D. Craig (“The Belko Experiment”) and solid work from cinematographer Russ De Jong (who also lensed Mullen’s 2015 action thriller “88”, which has my curiosity piqued), but honestly, there’s nothing here from a directorial stance that stands out.

But Mullen’s work and her “Badsville” crew aren’t the culprits solely responsible for the movie being mediocre, for not offering anything new or different to the street gang subgenre, that would go to the movie’s screenwriters, McLaren and Barrett. The two main actors of the movie also supply the screenplay and they don’t really do their characters any favors by delivering flat and unnatural dialogue. Granted, some of the lines uttered derive from the era they are influenced by, like, “There’s a rumble tomorrow at noon, by the tracks…,” which fits just right in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Outsiders”, but here it’s distracting and kind of laughable. With lines like that, it feels like the characters and that’s never a good sign.

As for the screenwriters acting performances in the movie, there were seldom moments when I didn’t cringe by McLaren and Barrett’s one-dimensional portrayals. The lean and fit McLaren has an obvious intensity about him, but he’s so low-key at times I was searching for a pulse. There are some tender moments with a local boy who looks up to Wink, that allows McLaren to show some emotional range, but it’s limited. The impetuous Barrett is the opposite and a case study in sudden overacting, emotionally going from 0 to 60 in some of his scenes, leaving very little nuances for viewers to work with. Neither actors are concerned with subtleties or conveying any semblance of charisma, something needed in order to rise above the predictable storyline.

If anyone is coming to “Badsville” for the only “name” actor, Robert Knepper, the master of greasy sleaze, they’ll be sorely disappointed. There’s not much for him to do here either, except to play to our expectations of him. McLaren looks so much like a young Knepper it’s a mystery why he wasn’t cast as Wink’s father and had this story deal with a conflicted father-son relationship that tarnishes masculinity. But, alas, there’s no bold explorations here.

 

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RATING: **

 

 

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