Friday, March 20, 2009

CO Indy: Skills Like This

It seems like tempting fate when a film’s screenwriter also stars in the film, playing an undeniably awful writer. However, it must have gone over well at the SXSW Festival, considering Monty Miranda’s Skills Like This (trailer here) won the Audience Award there. It must have been the hair. Starring screenwriter Spencer Berger as the failed playwright with a gi-normous head of hair, Skills opens in New York today.

The Onion Dance, Max’s pretentious play, is so bad it sends his grandfather into cardiac arrest. Think of it as the stage equivalent of Magnolia, except it has onions falling from the sky, instead of frogs. Recognizing the painfully obvious, Max gives up writing altogether. While seeking the dubious consolation of his best friends, Dave the office drone and Tommy the unemployed quirky guy, Max gets a bolt of inspiration. He excuses himself to rob the bank across the street, relying solely on surprise and chutzpah. Suddenly, Max finds something he is good at: crime.

Max’s friends react differently to his big score. Tommy is totally down with it, while Dave nearly has a panic attack. They all agree on the need for drinks though, so it is off to the bar, where Max comes face-to-face with Lucy, the teller he held up earlier in the day. Though she is a bit alarmed at first, Max calms her down, and starts to win her over. Max proceeds to court her, when not dodging the cops or indulging his new-found criminal instincts, but eventually Lucy makes it clear she will not play Bonnie to his Clyde.

As Max, Berger really does have a winning screen presence, but his script is all over the place. One minute a goofball comedy, the next minute a serious drama, Skills suffers from drastic mood swings. Some of the comedy falls painfully flat, like Tommy’s search for “Gloria,” his stolen bike, which would be better suited to an adolescent girl than an ostensibly grown man. Particularly troublesome is a scene in which he seems to be hitting on a young school girl for supposedly comedic effect. Not at all funny, it is frankly creepy and nearly derails the entire film.

While uneven, Skills is best when it sticks with Max. The dramatic scenes at his grandfather’s deathbed are effective, thanks to the dignified presence of veteran character actor Ned Bellamy as Uncle Morris. Despite the unlikely circumstances, Max’s romantic scenes with Lucy (played by Kerry Knuppe) have nice chemistry, but again things are undone by the script’s erratic nature. Just when it seems like the characters will be forced to finally grow-up, the action suddenly spins off into Neverland.

Mercifully, Skills is not The Onion Dance. Miranda keeps it all moving along at a reasonably brisk pace, particularly the scenes of Max’s criminal development, but it is uneven in the extreme. Still, it is worth noting Skills holds the distinction of being the first theatrically distributed film, shot entirely in Colorado, solely by Coloradan filmmakers. So maybe the altitude had something to do with it. Skills begins its New York run today at the Angelika.