Sunday, June 10, 2007

Drop Box

Directors: Anesty and Spiros Carasoulos
Starring: David Cormican, Rachel Sehl, Mary Kitchen, Neil Whitely, Helen Tong

Running Time: 75 minutes

Rating: Unrated

*** (out of ****)

After watching Drop Box, the low budget independent comedy about a spoiled pop princess who accidentally returns her homemade lesbian sex tape to an uncooperative video store clerk, I had a nightmare. A nightmare that the film was remade on a bigger budget starring someone like Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan. While it's doubtful either one of them would have the wherewithal or intelligence to take such a well-written role, if they did it would probably do wonders for their career. Hey, it couldn't hurt at this point, could it? Who it would hurt is us because there's no way either one of them could possibly bring the depth the actress here does to the lead female role or be a fraction as likeable.

A bigger budget and bigger stars would also dilute the intimate nature of the story that makes it so accessible and unique. It would lack the deft touch that first time writer/directors Anesty and Spiros Carasoulos bring to a film that on paper seems like a long shot to work. Drop Box further proves what we've known for a while: It's not the size of the budget, but the size of the vision that counts. If you have a good idea, smart writing, the right cast and clever directing, it goes a long way. Bad films can be made on big budgets. They can also be made on small ones. Drop Box fits in neither category. It's not a bad film, but a very good one that manages to do most everything right.

Tom (David Cormican) just might be the crankiest video store clerk this side of Randal in Clerks. This guy is so burnt out and fed up with his daily dealings with idiotic customers he exacts his revenge by creating an "Employee Picks" section that includes The Postman and Battlefield Earth. His latest customer is Mindy (Rachel Sehl) and she's determined to get back her copy of Glitter she just returned. Like us, Tom is perplexed how anyone could possibly have any desire to watch that film twice when a medal should probably be awarded for making it past a single viewing. Therein lies the catch. It's not Glitter she returned in the drop box, but instead a sex tape featuring her in a three-way. We soon find out that Mindy is a world- famous pop star and if this tape is leaked it may do further damage to her already shaky image. Tom claims he has no idea who she is, but what he does know is that he has a spoiled brat in front of him that needs to be taught a lesson the hard way. He's not giving up that tape without a fight.

At this point a lesser film would try to come up with contrived, slapstick situations to keep her in the video store (after all the movie is filmed in one location). But the movie does something that's actually really clever by not only making the Tom character a complete jerk, but a really funny one. He's just as bad and almost as unlikable as she is, yet we still relate to him because let's be honest: If Paris Hilton came in during your shift wanting her sex tape back there's no way you're just handing it over. You're going to make her suffer. While she suffers we're treated to entertaining shenanigans involving Tom giving away movie endings to customers, arguing about late fees, canceling a foreign man's membership because he can't understand a word he says and a little kid's scavenger hunt for Porky's. It all works and halfway through the film a funny thing happens and these two terminally unlikable characters become increasingly likeable. After all, it's pretty hard to hate someone who lists Back to the Future and Hearts in Atlantis as two of his all-time favorite movies. The film also makes a smart call in not showing the contents of the tape (even if I would have loved to see it) because the Carasoulos' wisely realize nothing on that tape could possibly live up to the characters' hilarious description or our wild imagination.

Cormican (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jonathan Silverman in appearance and demeanor) goes a long way to help this cause by basically carrying the movie on his shoulders with his impeccable comic timing and charm. He seems like he stepped right out of a 1980's John Hughes movie, which is fitting since the film has that kind of vibe to it. You get the feeling this actor could step into any big Hollywood romantic comedy and pull off what he does here. I hope we eventually have the opportunity to see that. Sehl has the tougher, nearly impossible task of convincing us she's not only a famous bitchy pop star, but more importantly, a real person with real problems. If she plays her too bitchy, then she's not sympathetic. If she's too sympathetic, then she's not a bitchy pop star. Sehl (who really looks the part) gets it just right and we're never quite sure whether Tom's slowly cracking her fa├žade or she's just taking him for a ride. Or is he taking her for a ride? Each of them have finally met their match and the result is some clever whip-smart dialogue and comic interplay. That two actors with limited experience pull this off is impressive.

At first I was taken aback by the abrupt ending, but now the more I think about it, it ended right and anything more probably would have seemed like too much. Like they were trying too hard to provide closure. That's a mistake a mainstream Hollywood romantic comedy would likely make. The film feels well paced at 75 min. and the co-directors make a lot of interesting choices visually considering the confined space they have to work with.

The only thing that confused me about the film was the overabundance of VHS tapes (which are all but extinct now) in a modern video store. We're led to assume the year is 2005 since Tom tells one of his customers he's six years too late watching The Sixth Sense, so this is taking place fairly recently. However, it looks like it was shot in a real video store so maybe I'm wrong and they did still stock that many VHS titles as recently as then. I'm just nitpicking though. It's completely irrelevant to the fact that she just needs that tape back. If anything, the film will have a longer shelf life because it reminds audiences caught up in this Netflix era that sometimes it's fun to browse titles at your neighborhood video store, where I can honestly say I've encountered more than a few clerks like Tom.

I didn't know what to expect when I popped Drop Box into the DVD player, but I ended up with a nice surprise. Major studio filmmakers could watch this and learn a few things about directing a concise, effective movie about real people that's actually funny, without all those silly shenanigans that populate most romantic comedies out there right now.

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