Not every film gets exhibited in a movie theater. And not every film that misses out on that opportunity is bad. Sometimes they can be good, or funny, or just plain awesome, and still not get into theaters because the economic model for film marketing seems to be risk aversion. Period. This means that, sometimes, a DVD of a film you’ve never heard of but see on a store shelf, whether it be Wal-Mart or Blockbuster, can be a diversion for the night. It might not suck at all and, because you haven’t seen a dozen trailers and been attacked by viral marketing, you might even find it unexpected and surprising. Enter “Moola” and “The Amateurs” — two films worth renting you probably haven’t heard of — both about a group of loveable losers who get caught up in unorthodox schemes to make it big and populated by actors you probably actually know.
Yep, that’s the creepy “Other” Ethan above on the pink bike in Don Most’s “Moola” where actor William Mapother plays Steve, a guy who’s about to see a string of hard luck turned around. He and his loser business partner Harry (Daniel Baldwin) are about to lose their chemical light sticks business to bankruptcy, their marriages are headed south, and then it happens. “It” is a call from a farmer explaining that he wants to order more Omniglow light sticks because it turns out to be of real practical value in getting cows to get down with bulls. At least that’s what I think the deal is, but it really doesn’t matter because the movie is not about bovine sex as much as it is about the deal that must be structured to procure this magic wand. Before it’s over, people have acted like they’ve got money they don’t have, greedy people have cheated and lied, and the whole bit has gotten seriously out of hand. Disclaimer: I actually cast the director, Don (“Donny”) Most, as Timothy Leary on my “Dark Skies” series and as a past-life hypnotist on “The Crow: Stairway to Heaven” but no money has changed hands here and I think we can treat the review as an “arm’s length transaction.”
The Defending Champion
I’ve lived through some tough economic times in my entertainment career but I’ve never thought to myself, “Gee, maybe if I made some hard core adult film, it would make money and turn my life around.” That’s exactly what Jeff Bridges’ character Andy Sargentee thinks, though, in writer-director Michael Traeger’s “The Amateurs.” Andy goes out to recruit his low-brow friends around town to the cause and he turns up some pretty high profile actors in the roles: from Ted Danson and Joe Pantoliano to William Fichtner and Patrick Fugit and even Lauren Graham, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Glenne Headley. Seriously, this is one hell of a cast for a film that was made in 2005 and still hadn’t seen the light of day until recently. As for tone, you’d have to say that they were going for a very naughty Capra-esque feel and they come pretty damn close most of the time.
The star power meter probably pegs closer to “The Amateurs” because of its bigger names, led by a bona-fide feature player like Bridges. “Moola,” though, catches fire whenever Daniel Baldwin is on the screen which is a revelation about his talent but, aside from the relative cult status of William Mapother and Curtis Armstrong, he’s the biggest name, too. Not that this isn’t a winning ensemble, it is. “The Amateurs” has an across-the-board strong cast, too, and also lets William Fichtner inhabit one of the most intriguing characters this great actor has been able to jump into in his career. Advantage: Close, but “The Amateurs.”
Where “Moola” comes storming back, though, is in the sheer craziness of its underlying idea about, basically, cows hooking up, and what big money it could be. It’s so specific that it feels real (and it is, actually, inspired by true events). In contrast, “The Amateurs” feels like a comedic set-up, a chance to say provocative sexual things (i.e. needing “a half-dozen guys unloading on a gal until she looks like a melted candle”) and get more than a few cheap laughs. “Moola” doesn’t have relentless comic force but when it gets a laugh, it’s earned it. The same applies to the characters. By the time “Moola” wraps it up, we care about these people and when they dance together in celebration, it’s just freaking charming. Part of that is a function of the film taking extra time to set the characters up and get a feel for them so that we are in the same car on their roller-coaster ride. Advantage: “Moola.”
“Moola” also seems to have a real theme which is something to do with our perception of ourselves, self worth, etc. “The Amateurs” wants us to buy into that, too, but it wants to be about regular guys making a porno even more.
Finally, in the everything is connected world, Don Most who directed “Moola” also played Ralph on “Happy Days” which starred Ron Howard who played Opie on the “Mayberry RFD” series from which “The Amateurs” steals all of its names. Six Degrees of Richie C., anyone?
There’s a lot to like in both films and, given that you can get them both on DVD with no tickets or parking involved, you may want to check them both out. But if you’ve got time for just one walk on the theatrical quiet side, you should go for the one that leaves you with the most to think about in your own life and the biggest smile, and that would be “Moola.”