Saturday, December 22, 2012

Unspeakably Bad Indie: Assisted Fishing Actually Gets Marginally Better As It Goes Along.

The Good: Direction improves, Moments of performance
The Bad: Terrible acting, directing, characters, Predictable plot and character arcs, Horrible humor.
The Basics: A poorly constructed independent comedy film, Assisted Fishing gets off to a rocky start, but gets marginally better before its predictable and disappointing end.

In my recent review of Take This Waltz (reviewed here!), I posited that there are essentially two types of independent films: the small films that are made by celebrities that are never intended to be blockbusters (art house films that, for most established actors and production teams end up as a chance to showcase for their peers) or small films that are produced by a dedicated group of amateurs. In that review, I admired the tenacity and creativity of the latter group of indie films. Having been generously sent a copy of Assisted Fishing to screen, I find myself admiring that latter type of independent film quite a bit less.

Assisted Fishing is an amateur film, not just an independent film. A comedy written and directed by virtual unknown Joe Crouch for Strata Films, Assisted Fishing oscillates wildly from being disgusting, disappointingly unfunny, and formulaically quirky (not pretentiously quirky, like David Lynch’s films, but rather quirky for the sake of quirky in a way that is obviously constructed, as if the writer sat down with five or six jokes or ridiculous archetypes they wanted included, that do not otherwise fit in the film) and utterly predictable. What began as one of the worst cinematic travesties I ever had the misfortune to screen – and that includes promotional indie films from Star Trek conventions – got marginally better in the middle as Crouch’s actors became more comfortable in their roles.

A lifelong adversary of fishing bait entrepreneur Jimmy Valentine, Dewey spends years living in the shadow of the man who bullied him from childhood. Trying to market his own fishing bait product, an electrified pickle called the Glow User, Dewey is met with constant disappointment and rejection. Accompanied by his talking iguana, Dewey wants to enter the Bait King fishing tournament run by Jimmy for the $10,000 prize. After hitting his mother (who is treated like his girlfriend) up for money, he takes a job monitoring the residents of Shady Oak Assisted Living Facility for the weekend to get most of the money needed for entering the fishing contest.

Despite near-lethal flatulence from one of the members of Shady Oak and Agnes, a resident who intends to rat Dewey out to the domineering Summer when she returns, Dewey begins to experiment with flexibility in the rules at the Assisted Living Facility. When Monica arrives with a boy who wants to volunteer at Shady Oak (despite multiple people dying with him on previous attempts), Dewey is infatuated. Dewey takes the residents, Monica, and Billy, out for a day of fishing on his boat. Despite some initial setbacks, they end up having a good day, catching a big fish, and bonding. While the day ends with Jimmy using a corrupt cop to steal the fish, Dewey getting hit with pretty hefty fines, and Agnes reporting Shady Oaks to an organization that looks out for senior citizens, the residents seem closer from the day outside the confines of Summer’s strict rules and regulations. With the help of one of the residents, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and/or dementia, Dewey enters the fishing contest and tries to make his dream come true, keep the residents together, and win the affections of Monica.

Assisted Fishing calls to mind the early films of Kevin Smith, like Clerks (reviewed here!). Unlike Clerks, though, Assisted Fishing fails to make larger statements on human relationships. Instead, by the time Joe Crouch gets around to making social commentary in Assisted Fishing, the viewer has long-since checked out.

The truth is, Assisted Fishing is a mess. In addition to terribly archaic and homophobic notions of transgendered individuals, Assisted Fishing is problematically unclear on its concept. Shady Oaks Assisted Living Facility is poorly cast or the victim, of working off multiple drafts of the script. Most of the residents of Shady Oaks are not, in fact, senior citizens. Instead, they are young performers (poorly) made up to appear to be senior citizens. But, looking at the characters, it is obvious, they are not aged. So, for much of Assisted Fishing, it appears the supporting characters are, in fact, mentally retarded or mentally ill. The jokes – ranging from fart jokes (that include exceptional amounts of smoke and colored gas special effects that make b-movies look like Avatar) to head-in-the-crotch jokes – fall flat and seem in particularly poor taste in that phase of the film. But, near the climax of the movie, Shady Oaks is explicitly defined as a home for senior citizens. So, Assisted Fishing is sloppy.

It is also filled with “types” for the characters. Willie is the slightly effeminate fat man, Luann is the sex-crazed senior, The General is a cranky ex-military man, and Bernie is a walking fart joke. Henry is a demented version of Silent Bob and Monica is a generic love interest for Dewey. Assisted Fishing has the most predictable possible character arc for Dewey and Joe Crouch plays for stupidly absurd for most of the first half of the film, making it virtually impossible to care about the fate of Dewey by the time he writes anything meaningful into the script.

On the acting front, Assisted Fishing is a study in terrible acting and/or terrible directing. It is not until the closing credits are rolling and outtakes are presented that there is any evidence that the film was made in more than one take. Derek Haugen, who plays Dewey, starts as stiff and terrible, but by the middle of the film finally seems comfortable enough with his character to exhibit some sense of comic timing that might have been how he was cast for the role. When Haugen loosens up and is given the right material, he actually makes Derek enjoyable to watch. But those moments are few and far between and come after a number of terrible moments where he does not have the right eye lines or body language (like for when his character is electrocuted). Allyson Sereboff might be playing a generic good Samaritan love interest as Monica, but she does it well. The only other performer of (positive) note is Arlan Godthaab, who plays Henry. Godthaab is good at making the transitions between Henry’s silent and lucid moments seem like they come organically from the same character.

But even the moments that Godthaab dominates the screen or Haugen actually plays with a sense of humor fail to sell Assisted Fishing. It is too predictable and pedestrian for the bizarre initial characterizations and the acting is, for the most part, juvenile. Joe Crouch may have cinematic ambitions, but he is not going to realize them through films like Assisted Fishing.


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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