Thursday, January 16, 2020

On Jack Henry Robbins' original-in-concept but mediocre-in-execution movie, VHYES, and the ubiquity of "spoilers"

"Spoilers" are everywhere these days -- in reviews, trailers, and even press information on the films themselves. Case in point is a new and quite unusual movie entitled VHYES (think the old video format VHS but in a very positive way), directed and co-written (with Nunzio Randazzo) by Jack Henry Robbins (shown below). What the movie does is to seemingly combine a whole bunch of disparate footage, video-recorded by 12-year-old-Ralphie, of his favorite TV shows, his family and his fat friend Josh, and even, finally, the exploration of a supposedly haunted house nearby.

Unfortunately, Ralphie has recorded over his parents' original wedding tape. Therefore we see occasional bits and pieces of the ceremony, followed by very intermittent moments of Ralph with mom and, less often, with dad, as the film moves on to other crucial times and events.

Between these brief and seemingly random clips, we get a ton of supposedly late 1980s television crap -- from one of those dreadful shopping channels (below) to a mock-hilarious sit-com involving cloned offspring, an in-prison interview about a horrible event that

occurred in town some years back, and even a pretty funny satire on a grade-Z, Scandinavian-accented, aliens-from-outer-space movie (below). Some of these have their charm and a certain degree of humor, and one would-be porno film that combines sex and climate change has an oddballn zing. But some are just not credible as TV programs a 12-year-old would want to watch and tape. A shopping channel? Particularly one that offers products like those we see above?

We soon realize that this is an excuse for Mr. Robbins to try his hand at satire. And while that hand is at least off-and-on successful, all of this takes too much time and interest away from the (very partial but more important) story at hand -- which is about Ralph and his parents. Would a 12-year-old be that interested a commercial for a baldness cure (below)? Again, the chance for a bit of satire takes the place of believability.

There's another oddball show that seems amusing a for a bit -- featuring a supposedly "kindly" cowboy (below) who is anything but -- yet this whole idea seems more redolent of the 1950s and Hopalong Cassidy than of the 1980s. And so it goes.

The best of all this would-be TV are the snippets from a series entitled Painting With Joan, in which Kerri Kenney (below) is priceless as the artist showing her audience how to paint. Plus, her crazy/funny introduction of sex into her work might indeed be enough to entice a budding 12-year-old to her fold.

When I note in my post headline above that the execution here can be mediocre, I am not referring to how fuzzy these clips all look. That's simply the effect of VHS (and, to a lesser extent, Betamax), via which all these segments were actually filmed -- or so we're told. This achievement, at least, should be charming and nostalgic for those of us who remember this "breakthrough" technology.

Instead, it's the cumulative effect of hit-and-miss humor that eventually does the movie in, while taking away precious time from the more important story at hand. And when I talk about press "spoilers" above, I am referring to critics' quotes and press verbiage mentioning laughter and tears, total sincerity, and a whole lot of heart -- all of which clue us into and set us up for what we get. Yet what we get seems like small potatoes indeed. Make no mistake, this movie is an original, and I'm glad I saw it. I just wish it had taken its smart concept and done this better justice.

From Oscilloscope Films, running only 71 minutes (including padded credits), and featuring a nearly unrecognizable Tim Robbins in one large role, and a very recognizable Susan Sarandon in a tiny one (the filmmaker is their offspring), VHYes opens tomorrow, Friday, January 18, in more than 20 cities/theaters around the country. Click here, and then click on GET TICKETS, to learn if one of these is near you.

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