Sunday 18 September 2016

Yoga Hosers (2016) - Movie Review

Kevin Smith is one of my all-time favourite filmmakers. His scripting ability when it comes to character and universe-building, especially with his earlier View Askew material, has made for some famous pop culture moments and his knack for using his own life and his own experiences as inspiration for his writing has resulted in some shockingly poignant films under his belt. From his examination into faith and theology with Dogma, to his treatise on sexual politics with Chasing Amy, right down to his iconic depiction of working class perspectives with Clerks, the man garners plenty of respect in these parts. I even got the chance to see him live during one of his infamous live Q&As here in Australia, which ranks up there as one of the more inspirational live shows I’ve gone to because of how much I look up to the guy. Hell, his last film Tusk was one of the first I ever reviewed on this blog and I still stand by every word that I wrote there, in spite of the film’s generally lukewarm reception. So, as a massive Smith fanboy, I was genuinely excited about today’s subject, again in spite of less-than-ideal reviews. I’ll try and keep my biases out of it as best I can, but I make no promises.

The plot: Convenience store clerks Colleen Collette (Lily-Rose Depp) and Colleen McKenzie (Harley Quinn Smith) have been forced to work on the same night as a major high school senior party hosted by Hunter (Austin Butler). However, as the night goes on, it seems like their seemingly ordinary night is about to get even less so. With the help of manhunter and now local hero Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp), they uncover a plan by the Nazis to take over Canada and it is up to them to stop the Nazi bratwurst clones from killing everyone.

Nepotism is an ugly word when it comes to children being cast solely because they’re related to the filmmaker/main actor; I’ve seen enough Jaden Smith films to know how bad this sort of arrangement can get. And yet, I don’t really have many complaints when it comes to our main leads. Lily-Rose might be a little too complacent in her straight-man role, but she manages to work with her stoic character without coming across as completely lifeless. Harley Quinn, on the other hand, definitely seems to be having fun on-set and is willing to play ball in terms of the weird situations she gets involved in; very engaging, very fun, very abrasive in places but overall she’s alright. Depp as the returning Guy LaPointe doesn’t have the same incalculable fascinating quality as his turn in Tusk, but he’s still consistent as this Wiseauvian glitch of a human being.

Butler is very entertaining, as he bounces between faux-gallant and real-crazy almost seamlessly and managing to work with his high school supervillain role. Justin Long is engaging and probably the most consistently funny as the Colleens’ yoga teacher Yogi Bayer, Ralph Garman flexes his skills as an impersonator to rather dubious ends, Haley Joel Osment does well as the Canadian Fuhrer, made better by how in this sea of surreality he is playing a person who actually existed, Tony Hale is fun if a bit too child-like in his mannerisms, and Stan Lee cameos for reasons that are probably only intelligible in the mind of Kevin Smith.

Since going independent, Smith has made the official Kill Bill transition from screenwriter to bona-fide filmmaker. I mean, just looking at Red State and Tusk compared to his other films, they are a massive upgrade in production quality alone. And then there’s this film, and it feels like he has taken a massive step backwards as a director because this really doesn’t look good. Hell, this film actually manages to look even more amateurish than his actual amateur film Clerks, a comparison that he is more than aware of given the main characters and main setting of the story. Where the last two SmodCast Pictures productions looked and felt like genuine films in their structure and visuals, this is way too disorganised and way too confined in its scope to really gel with.

And then there’s the effects work and, again after seeing what he was capable of with Tusk, it is absolutely hideous. Like, 'not even being able to pass muster on YouTube' kind of hideous. The Bratzis themselves, played by Kevin Smith because this is the extent of his lack of shame, are placed in the actual film through some of the worst green screening I’ve ever seen. Some inner fanboy sector of my brain is compelled to suggest that maybe this is all deliberate, but since there’d be no real point in doing it like this to that end, I’m calling it what it is: Shoddy. Then there’s the effect of the sauerkraut innards of the Bratzis, because refer above for statement concerning lack of shame, which is quite literally the cheapest effect I’ve seen in a theatrically released film; for those playing the home game, that encompasses any film made in the last 20 years. I rarely get to say this but, with my minimal experience in video editing, I am genuinely more than capable of doing a better job myself at home.

The writing is pretty suspect, too, although I can at least come up with a logical reason for why it is as it is. As I said, Smith has a habit of putting elements of his own personal life into the scripts he writes, from the "faith is like a glass of water" exchange from Dogma to Zack & Miri Make A Porno being a once-removed re-enactment of the making of Smith’s own Clerks. Well, a few times before, Smith has made mention that he has a genuine love for the Canadian TV franchise Degrassi, even appearing in and directing an episode of The Next Generation himself. A certain notion that he, and by extension most people in the United States, only know what they know about Canada through watching cheesy teenaged melodrama makes a bit of sense when it comes to a lot of the dialogue here.

However, having a fascination with the whole ‘aboot’ thing is one thing, while having every character say it to varying degrees of abrasion is another. For the first 5-10 minutes, that aspect of the script gets seriously annoying and more than a little desperate in its own way. Add to that the numerous 'Get it? Because we’re in Canada!' bits of background humour and interjections in the dialogue and this starts to feel like a pantomime more than anything else. With my track record, I should be able to spin this into some kind of profound statement on the relationship between the U.S. and the True North, but… nope. I just see cultural exaggerations being played up for comedy, and not particular strong comedy either.

The rest of the comedy, on the other hand, is what ultimately salvages this film. I’ve mentioned before how I have a certain susceptibility to bonkers on screen and this is no real exception to that. I mean, cloned sausage Nazis assemble into a rubber Golem made up of various taken body parts and skin sections. I can’t even bring myself to remark on how that is essentially the same creation idea for the last rubber monster Kevin Smith created with the Winnipeg Walrus; I’m too mesmerised by how I’m actually seeing this shit on screen.  Where Tusk treated its subject matter with a disarming amount of seriousness, making for a genuinely thrilling experience, this has no such pretences. It knows it’s silly and has zero issue in showing it. The plot elements, from the Bratzis to the devil worshippers to the strangely badass use of yoga, all feel like this has been cobbled together because they are what the writer/director found funny and nothing more. This is made crystal clear during the end credits, which feature Kevin laughing hysterically at Scott Mosier saying "yoga hosers".

I’d take a lot more issue with this if it weren’t for the fact that, in a pretty pharmaceutically-induced way, this is pretty damn funny to sit through. Sometimes in spite of itself, like when looking at the special effects work (even the aforementioned Golem is a serious step-down in quality), and sometimes it’s genuine, like when Yogi Bayer goes through a set of named yoga positions. It is at this point that I officially have to declare this a guilty pleasure, and I seriously doubt that Kevin Smith’s involvement is why I’m being so lenient overall. I mean, I’ve seen him make bad movies before like with Jersey Girl, and this is still nowhere near that bad overall. No, I think it’s because the last several months have provided me with films that are not only bad, but bad because they offend certain intrinsic parts of my being: Racism with London Has Fallen, sexism with The Choice, ableism with Lights Out, etc. In light of all that, I’m willing to accept a film as being enjoyably bad if it means getting away from films that literally tell me to go kill myself.

All in all, from a technical perspective, this is really friggin’ bad. The acting and writing are some of the broadest stereotype-wielding Kabuki-level junk I’ve seen all year, and the production values show a staggering back pedal in terms of Smith’s skill as a filmmaker. But I can’t bring myself to hate this too strongly because, even if it’s on a guilty level, this was a fun watch. It’s balls-to-the-wall crazy, which I’ve already admitted to liking when it’s done well enough, and there’s some sort of mental block that prevents me from completely deriding a film featuring Nazi sausage minions. I cannot in good conscience recommend this one, unless you’re a serious fan of Kevin Smith’s work, but I don’t particularly care on that point. I had a fun time, in spite of myself, and I’ll take that wherever I can get it after realising the utter depths that recent releases can get to and have already gotten.

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