Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sex, Lies, and a Snuff Videotape: "The Cliffhanger" (2003)

Eleven Chicago area film makers, about eighteen actors, and one storyline converge to make a singular mess.

Using the "Exquisite Corpse" idea, the basic plot involves a group of lowlifes trying to get their hands on harsh snuff videos, and killing off their enemies. I would provide more information, but I gave up trying to discern a linear plot fifteen minutes into the film.

The idea plays better than the execution. One film maker would have one week to shoot a chapter, then another film maker would have one week and the same actors to shoot the next installment, and so on through almost a dozen film making teams. The differing artistic visions are supposed to provide the audience with a visual thrill, as the all-too-complicated plot unfolds. I believe the improvisational aspect and the number of film makers involved should have been more closely supervised. Apart from "Chapter VII," none of the eleven segments looked much different from the each other. Some of the characters would pull complete one eighties in their behavior, and the number of coincidences and convenient plot twists is mind numbing.

The film degenerates into a bunch of actors smoking cigarettes and speaking tersely into cell phones, while the viewer goes into the kitchen to get another beer and count the minutes until the next "chapter." The first couple of segments never hooked me, so the rest of the film did not get a chance to reel me in. I didn't know who was who, why anyone was acting the way they were, and I did not feel like constructing flow charts in order to keep all the character connections straight (Dad slept with daughter on tape, daughter kills Dad on tape, but really another man killed him but daughter is taking revenge anyway and so on and so on...???).

"The Cliffhanger" has a great idea going for it. The double disc DVD package (from www.splitpillow.com) is impressive, containing a trailer, two documentaries, a music video, and commentary by all the film makers involved. Unfortunately, I am reviewing just the film, and that does not work. For the record, the eleven teams involved are: Kilts Afire, Third Eye Films, Purgatory, Inc., Two Necks Productions, PaddyMeAss, Billy Goats Gruff, Shame About the Couch, the Mystery Men, Focal Point Productions, Panther City Films, and Shack Productions.

Hopefully the next improv film project will have more structure and less chefs spoiling the pot. It may not be a "new and revolutionary" way to make a film, but it might be more entertaining to watch. (* *) out of five stars.