“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”
Among the last quips of genius from the lips of Oscar Wilde, truer words than these were never spoken. With his absolute dying breath he is supposed to have said: “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has to go.”
Even if this quote is apocryphal—it’s funny—which I’m not entirely sure is the case with All American Zombie Drugs. But comedy is entirely subjective, and anyway, who in their right mind would compare a contemporary Stoner Movie with the wit of Oscar Wilde?
You might if you’re high.
One the other hand, one really can’t compare All American Zombie Drugs to some of the icons of the genre that, John Waters, might have in his DVD collection: Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke (1978); Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982); Dazed and Confused (1993); and, oh, Friday (1995); and then there were all those Harold and Kumar things, and Next Friday, and Pineapple Express… well, this list illustrates the point that comedy is subjective. However, two objective criteria for good comedy would have to be pace and polish where—within even the roughest of indies, say Clerks (1994) which was as rough as sack cloth—the timing (which is scene and gag pacing) and editing (which is master timing at its purest) maintain their preeminent flow, so to speak; its all about the bones. With this in mind All American Zombie Drugs needs a metronome, a case of chamois, and some calcium.
Yes, All American Zombie Drugs has its share of problems, chiefly, getting out of its own way, but the lead buddies, Sebastian and Vinnie (Beau Nelson and Wolfgang Weber respectively) make a promising pair, and Susan Graham is likeable as the long-suffering Kara. But here as well the cast has to fight the material. There isn’t a single scene in this movie that couldn’t use a savage trimming: long, long, long, long, long, scenes are too long; pauses are too long; sight gags go on too long; and when a high point is hit, writer-director Alex Ballar heads back up the same peak at least three more times just to make sure we get it. Despite the repetition there is funny stuff here, but it just plays and plays and plays until every possible drop of humor is wrung out, and then its mummified corpse lurches on until it too turns to dust before the next cut.
Timing is not just dependent upon pace but also upon principles of rhythm and tempo and dynamics and each a crucial element. These apply to moment-by-moment playing and to shot-by-shot editing and any weak link in the chain can create flat spots, lurches, dragging, and just plain tedium—this is true of any film and of any approach to editing, but where drama is forgiving, poor rhythm will kill a laugh.
Like a drummer having an off night, All American Zombie Drugs can’t seem to cop a groove.
Then, too, there is a disturbing vacant feel throughout the mise en scene, a wide open empty quality found in one-dimensional, workmanlike industrial video: all very competent but nonetheless listless and flat. I’m not sure All American Zombie Drugs knows what kind of Comedy-Horror-Drug-Zombie-Romance-Redemption-Coming-of Age-Epiphany-Message-Movie it wants to be. There is a reasonable premise, and a good set up for the internal logic of the narrative: Our heroes are not just stoner deadheads but hedonist pioneers. Unfortunately what is meant to be the force majeure of the plot winds up being peripheral to a host of dead end circumstances including a romantic encounter that never develops, only to have the entire film at last grind to a halt when Vinnie decides it’s time for rehab and the straight life?
Assiduously edited for deadwood and pace—at least near that of the trailer, which is pretty well done—and our stoners would have made a good fist of things. But as it stands, what plagues the production beyond tempo is a lack of strong characters and a good through line. There is further a troubling sameness in every scene, a lack of variety in location, set dressing, and no apparent production design, so that what is purported to be “suburban America” looks stuck somewhere within a twenty block radius of Burbank (in fact it was Burbank, and Oxnard, Sherman Oaks and Studio City). But this covers only the few exteriors that could have been stolen anywhere—of more visual interest. What we are left with is one stifling interior after another, and all apparently model condos, apartments and hotels—in which nobody lives.
All American Zombie Drugs will not likely capture the sweet spot 18 to 35 audience—more like 16 to 20—but may return an investment in the VOD market. The publicity and marketing are strong, perhaps stronger than the product. It remains to be seen what box office receipts will look like. All American Zombie Drugs opens April 23.
Actor, writer and director, Robert Kenneth Dator, worked in feature film and television in the United States and Australia. Bob is at work on The Camera as Entity; teaches Film Literacy, Literature and Drama at Oak Ridge Military Academy. He lives and writes in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he attends graduate school.
Director Alex Ballar
Producer Viktor Argo
Director of Photography Chai-Yu Chen
Editor Lee Ilfans
With first billed: Beau Nelson (Sebastian), Wolfgang J. Weber (Vinny), Susan Graham (Kara), Natalie Irby (Mellissa), Alex Ballar (Michael), David Reynolds (Big Al), Bobby Burkey (Spider), Aidan Bristow (Barry), Russ Cootey (Jimmy), Brian Smith (Bobby), Dennis Bover (Max), Jeremie Loncka (Stone), Stanton Prescott (Zane), Viktor Argo (Gerard), John Kearns Jr. (Truck Driver).
Runtime 99 minutes
DVD (NTSC, Region 1) USA, 2013
Produced by Magnanimity Films, Kearns and Mariande Pictures, Grizzly Peak Films
Aspect Ratio 1.33:1
Sound Mix: Stereo