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Movie Review: Crooked Features

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This column is an ongoing effort to review the work of no-budget independent filmmakers. Filmmakers are invited to submit their films for review. Got a film you'd like to submit for the Uber-Indie Project? Go here for details.

We begin the Uber-Indie Project with Mike Peter Reed's Crooked Features, a mockumentary look at the efforts of legendary adult auteur Rod Shuffler (Julian Lee) to go legitimate with Attack of the Clowns, described as a "sci-fi blockbuster like Star Wars, um, Citizen Kane…" You know, films like that. The project is doomed from the start, but the determined crew adapts, looking for ways to get the film finished despite an ominous threat from the investors of having to go hardcore. To the surprise of no one, the resulting film is a broad comedy littered with moments both small and slapstick, clever and cliché.

The cleverness peaks with the sudden decision to turn Attack of the Clowns into a DVDA, which Wikipedia tells me is not a video format, but a fictional sex act cribbed from Trey Parker's Orgazmo (1997). For Shuffler, though, it's something of a trump card, the thing he uses to quiet the investors and bring cast members back to work for free, since no one's actually seen DVDA done successfully. The cast and crew speak of it in hushed, almost reverential terms, and after a while you realize that it ain't gonna happen, that Reed is using it as a MacGuffin to liven up the threadbare story. It's a good spot for a MacGuffin too, as you don't often expect one in a film like this, so the trick isn't as easily apparent as it normally is (especially if, like me, you don't really know very many porn terms, so for all you know, it may very well be a real thing.).

But for all the inspired moments in Crooked Features, there are an equal number that fall flat. Several jokes, like the bit about product placement, feel like filler, stuff we've all seen numerous times before and, worse, there are glimpses that the cast knows it.

My biggest complaint is that Crooked Features lacks the improvisational feel the mockumentary genre relies on. It takes little time at all to realize that what you're seeing is, in fact, scripted. It's not that the script is bad, it's just clearly a script. Combine this with a camera that's sometimes on a tripod where it should probably be handheld, and the film struggles where it plays like someone's representation of a documentary rather than an actual one.

Of course, it takes specific kinds of actors to be able to do this effectively, so part of it may be something that's not practical considering the size of Reed's cast and the realities of some of his locations. It's entirely likely that improving would have pushed the production beyond the time constraints, so consider it a qualified criticism.

Either way, all that is forgotten when we get to see the delightfully horrific footage from Attack of the Clowns, especially the paper moon being held up by a grip. Oh so hideous and oh so wonderful.

All sorts of Crooked Features info can be found on the official webpage, where you can purchase the DVD, download it to your iPod, or just watch the trailer.

Starring: Julian Lee, Pano Masti, Kate Naughton, Jacqueline Oceane, Peter Saracen, and Lee O'Driscoll
Written by: Mike Peter Reed and Kevin Turrell
Directed by: Mike Peter Reed
£15,000/85 min/UK

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