Nicholas Richards’ strangest-day-in-the-life feature takes a while to find its legs but once the sudden cut-to-white fills the screen the substance level rises considerably and some of the earlier set-ups pay off with double-word scores.
The subject comes in the affable form of Phin—a down-on-his-luck young man whose life will forever change if only he can find his way to Normal (Illinois) and deliver a curious cargo. Geno Rathbone finds just the right mix of principled neighbour, go-with-the-flow (beware the carnal wrath of a second-thoughts bride) guest and head-over-costume lover to bring his everyman character to engaging life.
There is much homage to past films and filmmakers/writers from The Three Stooges (stuck in a gorilla costume for most of the Normal quest), Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and—take your pick—Stephen King’s cornfields.
The notion of how much words matter is inventively worked into the cinematic mix by having Scrabble games on hand at the tattoo parlour (Mark Campbell gamely doing the honours both on the board and with his tools-of-the-trade needles and tips) where a special password is expertly etched into Phin’s outwardly furry leg. Fellow word-seeker, Mr. E. (Ricky Russell is a model of determination), is the custodian of the mysterious package and will accompany the cash-starved courier (a $2500 payday sure seems better than prancing around Phin’s uncle’s—perfectly manipulative Steve Cosgrove—used-car emporium in a gorilla suit), bringing a whole different meaning to the term “monkey business.”
Of course, what’s a road movie without mechanical breakdowns and zany strangers—“God Is My Pilot” licence—along the journey. Grapefruit chomping Bruce (Neil Kubath has much fun with the notion of “furries”—so close to the mythical furies!—taking an unexpected turn) is no match for his girl Taylor (Emmi Chen artfully packs a wallop as she boldly pilfers wallets) whose bathroom break veers opportunistically into upper class urinals.
Controlling the details of the delivery caper is Phin’s sometime friend, Steve (a most pragmatic take on the surprising dark side of the warehouse business from Mike Pusateri). Like Uncle Miltie (thank goodness direct-reference restraint was shown in the dialogue), Steve enjoys pulling Phin’s levers to his reward and advantage. Will the destitute traveller be able to shake off his lethargy and “un-scrabble” his own life?
Literally pushed into an enforced timeout, Phin meets the beautiful Grace (Erin Breen lights up the screen with smiles that are nothing short of heavenly) whose “otherworldness” captures the costumed delivery man from first vision.
After that happily unexpected encounter, Richards lets the film unfold rather than drive it too quickly to resolution. Having the angle-savvy cinematography skills of Chuck Przybyl (the initial driving sequence towards Normal proves there is still something new under the sun) keeps all eyes on track. Better still, Terry Michael Barth’s original score discreetly holds together a varied and reinforcing array of songs (“O Mother, What Have I Done?” speaks volumes) thanks in large measure to the performances by Boulder Acoustic Society and the Forty Piece Choir.
Now that Richards knows the way to Normal, future destinations are highly anticipated safe in the knowledge that the oh-so-elusive triple-word score will find its way into his next narrative’s inner workings. JWR