This brings me to Independent Film Maker James Ricardo, the scripter and director of Sunnyvale. This guy's a better writer than I am, but suffers from the same malady of "worlds that stay" working better than "words we say". When the main character (played by Ricardo) would grace the original release version of Sunnyvale with one of his philosophical and humorously observant lyrics, he practically looked like he needed to breathe into a paper bag for a while, and you could see his eyes getting bigger and bigger at the strain. The Emperor of Austria from Amadeus appeared in a poof of smoke on my shoulder, at one point, and said "Yes! Too many notes!"
Herein lies some of the success of the latest version of Sunnyvale (now re-titled "Opie Gets Laid"). It's the same story as before, with the same nobody who gets luckier than Midas in fingerless gloves, the same series of cool, yet cruel women passing through his life (and often deciding to stay), and the same edgy and hilarious dialogue that Ricardo does so well from the first version. However, James Ricardo has seized upon his somewhat uneven independent debut and has taken a good look at the constructive (and not so constructive) criticisms, threw the whole bundle into an empty pizza box he tucked under his arm and journeyed back to his high rise grotto, where he locked himself in with plenty of pizza, cheeseburgers, doughnuts, soft drink bottles, martini glasses, porn, zombie movies, editing equipment and one strangely battered and overplayed DVD copy of Point Break.
The outcome of this brainstorm were rewrites and re-shoots, along with reassignments of the more AQUALUNG-rhythm lines to where they are best utilized. The result is a much more coherent, paced and humorous version of Sunnyvale, arriving improved, but not compromised. This "new" Opie Gets Laid utilizes music better (and to a much more comical effect), handles flashback sequences more seamlessly, is edited into a more ordered flow and has a much better look to it. But I'm happy to say that this new version of Sunnyvale is not a brand new movie with a new name. Ricardo was smart enough to take a step back, look at his movie with a critical eye, consider suggestions, change (or re-shoot) only that which needed work, and deliver a final product that still feels like Sunnyvale, with all the charm and humor of the original, without the pork and boredom that marred its second half.
For those of you who haven't seen this film (and though I'm collecting DVD copies of it, not enough of you have seen it), this is the story of a self-described "Opie", a thirty year old virgin living rent free in his uncle's apartment, with his uncle's sports car and an unemployment check that keeps him in black clothes (black hides dirt), junk food, video games, porn, and Mountain Dew highballs. This man's veil is anything but sunny, and it's a wonder that he even opens the door when his cute little neighbor chick puffs her way into his life like a misunderstood Peter Paul and Mary song.
It takes "Opie" about ten minutes of screen time to utter his first line, which starts an avalanche of dialogue that laces together his multiple "first times". You see, it's not just the cute little neighbor stoner Thai (April Wade) that he ends up sleeping with, but amazingly Thai's lesbian lover Dakota (Ute Werner) too. When Jesselynn Desmond's Rain (the accidental result of an answered internet personal) insinuates herself into his life, this hapless loser finds himself having to actually schedule time with his three lady friends, who somehow agree to this... just so long as he doesn't (ha ha), see anyone else.
If you're thinking this is completely unrealistic and are wondering just how the hell such a lonely mooch could possibly get so lucky, don't worry, he's thinking the same thing, and the women in his life are wondering the same thing too. But they keep coming back. Herein lies the comedy. There is no asking "why" here, beginning, middle or end, without ruining the whole thing. Ricardo takes the concept that Opie isn't our hero, but is all we've got to the Nth degree this time around, introducing him to the sound of hard driving action music, while he's doing nothing but carrying doughnuts and pizza from the elevator to his apartment. Opie, who puts the very person of Bill Shatner up on a pedestal, finds himself in a premise to rival the very pornos he's been renting, and the question of whether the fantasy or the reality is better will leave every like-minded geek-Opie in the audience not scratching their heads, but shaking them in denial. Yep, it's safe to say that irony holds this movie together like a stomach staple powered by the dark side of the force. Ricardo doesn't have to explain why you should care about his character... chances are you'll feel ambivalent at best, and that's the comedy, boils and ghouls!
As I said, though, dialogue makes the movie here and I can say for sure that it's been improved over the first version. The gang gets philosophical without ever becoming preachy and political without ever endorsing anything at all. What's better, a set up early in the story dominoes into a big laugh or two later on. This, coupled with the silent, or music-cued physical comedy and well-placed sight gags (this really isn't a movie for the blind), actually made me laugh out loud, much like when I heard any of the dialogue Billy Baldwin delivered in Virus. (It should be noted that Ricardo intended to be funny here.) Let me point out one more little victory here. In spite of what this may sound like, neither James Ricardo, nor his alter ego come off as misogynistic in this film. Scheduling days of wonton sex (No, not "wanton sex", I'm attracted to Asian soups!) with beautiful women around town, and then scrambling for "guy time" might not exactly sound like it's ready for an endorsement by the league of women voters, but watch the movie and you'll see what I mean. This isn't a movie about that... well, not just that, and the only one really getting abused here are the men (mostly Ricardo, whose nose and jaw may never recover)!
Now, before I rave to the grave here, let me say that Opie Gets Laid still isn't perfect. Although it's vastly improved, this isn't exactly Big Fish. There are still a few moments in which actors seem to be reciting lines rather than actually acting, in spite of the vast improvements in this area. This seems to dissolve around halfway through the film, but any fast change in emotion doesn't seem to junction properly with the previous mood. Not that I'd want to see this done with any other actors (anyone but Samantha Turk playing "Randi with an I" couldn't nail that super-hot-in-a-college-librarian-sort-of-way look), but the criticism stands. While it is true that the flow of the story is much better after the new editing, one tidal wave of a big surprise comes off as illogical (but then, as I've alluded, this isn't a movie that could, or should, explain itself to Mr. Spock).
Lastly, and I should be very, very careful here, it's a little surprising that there isn't any nudity in this movie. Sure, it's a great running joke that Opie either has sex fully clothed, or immediately throws his shirt back on after a lay, but with all the pre- and post-coital dialogue, it's hard to imagine that a little immodesty on the parts of the strange bedfellows would be interpreted as a gratuity. Let's face it, you're floating between an R and an NC-17 on frank dialogue and descriptions alone, man (dog lady springs to mind). Yes, I realize that Ute Werner could kick my ass easier than Godzilla defeated Bambi, but that knowledge doesn't suddenly make me either gay or blind, does it? Dakota is hot, damn it! Further, if anything, April Wade, Samantha Turk and Dr. Dre's dream Jesselynn Desmond are even better looking in the re-shoots, and they aren't alone. (One reviewer, and it wasn't me, even pointed out how good looking Ricardo himself is, adding, in his opinion, an extra layer of the unexplained here.)
Okay, it's flawed still, but was James Ricardo planning to make Lawrence of Arabia out of Opie Gets Laid? No way, man! But he is on his way to making a hell of a good comedy, if not for all tastes. The same day I watched this new version, I re-watched a classic from another decade called A Nightmare on Elm Street, and was blown away by some of the lacking acting therein. Does that mean I'm rating Opie Gets Laid on a curve here, when I give (this version) Four Stars out of Five? Well, maybe a little, but just a little. When a first-time independent film maker can give us something this entertaining (vastly better than most Schneider and Sandler fair), this well paced (the double punctuating scenes during the credits are still funny as hell) and complete on his second pass with a much lower budget than virtually every movie I've panned, and with actors better than a lot of the movies I've liked, I'm sticking to my guns on this improved version, bucko. It might not be Multiplex bait, but I'd pay to see this thing at the University Theatre Art House sooner than the next Solondz flick, buster! The only truly bad thing about reviewing these up and coming independent film makers is that many of them will get much bigger, much faster than me, and will one day be rubbing elbows with Roger Ebert instead of my dumb ass (it's already happened once), and I'll be standing there by myself looking like Jane and Michael Banks, on a chalk-drawn sidewalk in the rain, staring up through the clouds and wondering when old Mary Poppins is coming back. Look, kids, Roger Ebert may be more famous than me, and he may be richer than me, but I'M FUNNIER, damn it... and fatter! Ahem. So, until people stop asking me if I'm sure I was really kidding about Point Break I, uh, I guess I'll be seeing you in the next way-hot, four-way-sex reel.
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