(Premiere Date: January 12, 2006 [Southern Fried Flicks Film Festival])
(Release Date: March 26, 2006 [Newport Beach International Film Festival])
This Road Trip is a Real Trip!!!
I'm happy to tell you that guilt won't be motivating a more generous review (hell, I'm a jerk). I'm happier to tell you that Weeks' writing debut doesn't need to be graded on a curve. 29 Reasons to Run is a hilarious and engrossing comedy from start to finish in its own right. This road picture combines some of the better aspects of the Slacker Comedy, the Travel Journal, the Sarcastic Screw-All Coming of Rage caper, the Crime Thriller and the Outer Space Adventure all in one... while maintaining its own tone and remaining original. Wait a second... scratch that last one... There was no Outer Space Adventure... I'm just still hung over and seeing stars.
Branden Waits brings us Peter Jonson, the Stuffed-Shirt straight-arrow guy with a live in girlfriend (Kerri Wike's Janine) and an important (supposedly temporary) office job he hates, but excels at until his novel is published (are you spying on my, Gary?). He also has an old College Buddy named Jack Paradise (Gary Weeks himself) who crashes on Peter's couch (and occasionally, bed) when he's not looking for acting jobs. Apparently... he's usually not.
When the Last of the Last Straws is pulled by Paradise, Peter takes steps to send him back home to Georgia where he belongs. Peter gives him three good reasons, Jack says he'll need Twenty-Nine... it turns out that it only takes one. Soon Paradise cracks open a plan to chase after a mystery woman named Rose (the one reason to run, in case you missed that) and manages to drag Peter's newly single and purely drunk carcass along with him.
Yeah, I'm the first to admit... this theme doesn't sound terribly original. Aren't there about a zillion stories about how a pressed and starched preppy boy learns about the world and himself because his slacker best friend helped loosen him up? Indeed. However, this premise is only the backdrop to a very fine road picture. If you think you've figured this out in the first five minutes, you're about as wrong as those "Bob and Skip" jokes your own slacker buddies used to tell.
Before long Peter's boss Mr. Callahan (Michael Ensign) takes more than a little offense to the drunken voice mail our boy leaves for him. It turns out that not only does Peter have quite a cover-up assignment due, he also has enough sensitive knowledge about the company to make Enron, Tyco, Worldcom and Adelphia look like models of corporate stability. As Paradise chases Rose, corporate Head Hunter (literally this time) Stevenson (Adam Kendrick) chases Peter. Which is well and good... but whose chasing Amy?
As the pair travel from California through Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama to Georgia they pick up a wild ensemble of old and new friends. That starts with the wildest (and friendliest) of the bunch, a mullet-headed, rifle weilding jerk-of-all-trades College Buddy named Matt (Philip Boyd) who funds this trip from Lubbock, Texas (where my Dad was born) to their next stop in Shreveport, Louisiana (where... I grew up... Okay, seriously, Gary, are you spying on me?).
I have to mention that one, specifically because that's where they visit another college buddy, Thomas Alan Beckett's Salem and catch up with his little sister, the incredibly hot Jessie (played by the hypnotically beautiful Tara Frix). I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, she's about 29 reasons to watch 29 Reasons to Run all in one.
The story continues to build to the finish with more characters, screwball adventures and great dialogue. Amazingly, this never feels like your typical slacker comedy, road movie, chase caper or... well, anything else, Indie or not. There's something decidedly original about this one.
For one thing, Gary Weeks can write. He's put together an interesting montage of characters, adventures, situations and dialogue that manages to work better than most films of its kind. Another great credit goes to director Damon O'Steen. O'Steen pulls some killer tricks from the hat Weeks hands him. His clever use of Black and White to accent Peter Jonson's digressing into narration (well done by Waits, of course) compliments the mood, but also provides a nifty punctuation to the important parts. Trust me, this isn't a film to watch with your ears. Keep your eyes peeled and distractions minimal because the sight gags in this flick are worth the watch in and of themselves. The near-farcical nature of these accents, but never takes over, the straight comical, but often touching plot. If that doesn't grab you, the Scenery (yes, they really did film in all 8 states) certainly will.
O'Steen manages to keep up with Weeks who is excellent in his role. Weeks and Waits rebound off of each other in scenes that feel fully improvised at times. Weeks himself has a few montages that feel completely off the cuff. (Of course, he did write the damned thing, he could be strictly by the book).
There are a few things that aren't as well meshed as the rest of the film, which is surprising because the varied and conflicting elements all feel pretty cohesive on the whole. There is the occasional factually improbable element that doesn't quite work beyond the old "move the plot along" necessity. While it's easy to look back on these at the end of the flick and see how these eventually make sense, one has to wonder why the quirky, but smart characters themselves didn't stand up to question a few things. There is a tendency in a few places to shove in Quirky-for-the-sake-of-quirky characters and situations that feel like stream of consciousness inserts. That's not to say these don't work, and it's not to say that these things hurt the film at all. However, in a film that puts in such sentiment and uplifting sugar in its frosting, one must give pause to a cake that includes a Georgian tow truck driver whose name is actually Cooter (Eric Zwieg), who gives the gang a modern day inversion of the Dukes of Hazzard car (called the "General Louvre"), a honkey protestant minister who raps his sermons and goes by the name of Hymn-En-Em (Scott Casperson) and a couple of guys named Dru Updegraff and Joel Courtney who are credited as Slinger the Karoake Singer and Randy the Karoake Singer! Of course in my case that pause was for laughter, because that's just my kind of comedy! Further, on occasion, Weeks and company seem to get lost in just having fun at the expense of the overall plot of the film. Two things: 1) Why shouldn't they? and 2) These are mere blemishes on an overall well done project.
Even if it's not quite perfect, I should point out that Deadeye Productions' 29 Reasons to Run is indeed an independent film to the core. With a reported budget of $300,000 it's amazing how great this movie came out. Setting aside the good writing and directing for a second, the whole shebang feels complete and professional. Unlike a lot of Indies, there is no need for color or sound correction in this film. There are no moments of budget-assassinated failures. There are no flat deliveries or flubbed blocking. The cast themselves (many of whom you've seen in film and television) are not just a few friends that Weeks and O'Steen picked out for cheap, but very fine actors who comprise an excellent (in fact, award-winning) ensemble. Finally, the music is used wisely and tastefully, showcasing the score of Konstantinos Christides and the original songs (by such musicians as Tony Weeks). It never overcomes the action or drowns out the comedy, but always puts the proper spin on the scenes it graces.
Yeah, okay, this may sound like I'm grading this on a curve... I'm not. Considering all, 29 Reasons to Run is a very good film, a hilarious and well imagined comedy and one Trip of a Road Picture, fully worth Four Stars out of Five! But don't take my word for it... 29 Reasons to Run has racked up Six Awards already and has been an Official Selection at seventeen Film Festivals. Check out their official site! There are so many laurels posted there, I looked for some Greek Lettering and asked when the next Beer Brunch was! It's safe to say that the only one hurt by my drunken procrastination this time was my own dumb ass. Good films don't always carry the highest budgets. All it really takes is a fine cast, a good director and an original script. This is one experiment that worked. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go buy some sweaters and booze, some Christmas trees, some Christmas cheese, a fire place, a Couch and, if I can afford them, 29 Reasons to get all my Indie Film Directing friends packed in for this year's card. I can't use my own couch... My college buddy is still crashed out on it. Damn it! See you in the Next Reel.
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