By Elias Savada.
All hail the group’s second silly caper that will undoubtedly engross some of you. It does have a certain intoxicating charm to it.”
Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Jerry Jeff Walker, the American country music troubadour who died last month. His rendition of Gary P. Nunn’s London Homesick Blues came to mind (“And I’ll substantiate the rumor that the English sense of humor is drier than the Texas sand…”) as I got my introduction to Stuart Ashen’s idiotic approach to his pseudo-thrilling alter-ego via his 2013 feature Ashens and the Quest for the Gamechild. The humor wasn’t dry, but does seem to garner an “acquired taste” flavor. Hey, Ashen’s got 1.5+ million YouTube fans, so his audience is getting a long overdue regurgitation of the wacky wit (or lack thereof) found in that earlier film. All hail the group’s second silly caper that will undoubtedly engross some of you. It does have a certain intoxicating charm to it.
Both the original film and its first sequel, the just released Ashens and the Polybius Heist (find out where at watchpolybiusheist.com), revel in a substantial drollness that is further defined by director Riyad Barmania’s frantic approach to the script (both co-written with Ashen). It follows the same tropes as the earlier effort. Embrace the imbecility of life and let that cluelessness wash over you.
For the uninformed, this dysfunctional comedy, seven years in the making with 3/4ths of its budget crowdfunded, comes mostly from the mind of Ashen, or just Ashens, as his public self is known to his followers, the “collector of rare but absolutely worthless collectibles.” He hosts one of England’s oldest YouTube channels (838 videos, half a billion views – I’ve barely watched a handful), where you might find the comedian (well, his hands) promoting the release of his new film on International Toilet Day. His online shorts celebrate a blissful, exploratory sense of humor that offers potshots at dissecting everyday objects, such as his 10-minute examination of Chicken Ready™, a ridiculous canned item made in the good ol’ U.S.A., in which one whole chicken (“without the giblets”) is stuffed inside a large tin. Revolting food, but uncanny (pun intended) fun.
Thankfully, gross out moments are mostly childlike in Ashens and the Polybius Heist, in which an assortment of geeks, misfits, and an occasional stranger team together in a wildly ludicrous heist scenario heavily influenced by the Mission: Impossible films and Ocean’s Eleven, among others, with some of the wild, offbeat characters that might be plucked from Raising Arizona (1987) and even the inane, bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the various Pink Panther films. I think I might have spotted some of the amateur crooks borrowed from Guy Ritchie’s early classic caper flicks in the stew as well.
Do Barmania and Ashen put a new spin on top of all that they have begged, borrowed, and stolen? Not really, but their childish behavior does start to grow on you as the self-proclaimed No-Confidence Crew goes about its limited planning to secure a mythical 1981 arcade game that barely emerged from incubation in Portland, Oregon. Its legendary creation was the result of a government administered experiment gone awry. It seems there was a mind control issue – but don’t many electronic games have that effect? Anyway, there is comradery, subterfuge, lawnmowers, and hijinks as the titular character assembles his motley crew to track down the sole prototype, tucked away deep in the bowels of a corporate entity intent on using the technology for immoral purposes.
The cast includes best-selling author Daniel Hardcastle as computer nerd Cube, a spin on his online moniker NerdCubed, where he sports 2.5 million subscribers and 1.2 billion views of his work. Other gang members are Eli Silverman (Benny), Katia Kvinge (Vocal), Yiannis Vassilakis (Yiannis), Alyssa Kyria (Annalise, The Fixer), and Barry Lewis (Chef Assistance). The evil nemesis, Antony Agonist, is played by Stuart Barter, a.k.a. Stuggy Vines, another social media entertainer with a large internet following and a wild approach (think Jim Carrey) to comedy. Robert Lllewellyn (Kryten in Red Dwarf) reprises his role as The Professor from the earlier film. Joanna O’Connor plays Ashens’ estranged sister Christine.
There are plenty of Polybius films made and planned, and Easter Egg references to the console, including Stuart Brown’s 2017 documentary feature Polybius: The Video Game That Doesn’t Exist, the recent horror short Polybius by Jimmy Kelly, and on the Please Homer, Don’t Hammer ‘Em episode of The Simpsons that aired in September 2006. Somehow Ashens has pushed his quest for the holy computer game grail into streaming spaces way beyond his local crowd. So either thank or curse the British Empire for unleashing Ashens and the Polybius Heist. For me? Pandemic be damned – empty your head and enjoy!
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).