Is 'Stoner FM' a joke on us all?
I tried really hard to find some merit in "Stoner FM." If you dig deep enough, there is merit in the fringe, no matter how offensive or obscure or over-the-top. Because when you take away big budgets and commercial constraints, risks are taken. The results, while perhaps not cinematographically stunning, are usually culturally revealing, clever or, at the very least, interesting.
And just look at the people behind "Stoner FM."
Greg Malone is one of three writers, and he's in the film. So are Mary Sexton and Paul Pope, both well-respected local producers. Karl Wells is in it, though they spell his name wrong in the credits.
Sandy Morris is in it, and he's a good guy, right?
Kent Brown, the film's producer and director, and Donny Love, the associate producer, are the guys behind "George Street TV." Hate it or love it, that show wound up on NTV and on the Comedy Network.
The movie was privately financed by Executive Producer Dr. Brian Ramjattan, and the b'ys spent a solid four years working on it.
That's a lot of effort from a lot of people who ought to be making good decisions by now.
So, on Saturday night, I went to the Avalon Mall where "Stoner FM" is playing at Empire Theatres Studio 12 until Thursday.
There were 16 people in the theatre when the film began. Thirty minutes in, 11 remained.
Jack, played by Donny Love, is a snowboarding stoner. He and his snowboarding stoner buddies have an Internet video channel called Stoner FM. Jack inherits a ski lodge, called Mt. Zen, from his stoner dude grandfather, played by Sandy Morris. Thrilled, Jack celebrates with bongs, bros and topless women.
But Jack's cousin Richard Fa'Got, played by Kent Brown, wants the lodge, too.
Richard Fa'Got wears dark suits with pink ties and pink scarves and pink glasses. He has all kinds of sex with the parrot that is constantly hovering over his shoulder.
Fa'Got has two guys helping him out. One is an alcoholic rich Texan-type, played by Greg Malone. The other is a dwarf terrorist named Ali Ka Boom Boom played by Danny Santuccione. To emphasize Ka Boom Boom's cultural heritage, Santuccione is in brownface makeup and flanked by two dancing women in burkas made of plaid sheets.
Love and Brown also appear in turbans and brownface as Ka Boom Boom's terrorist friends who are eager for a suicide bombing. Dismayed at the single-digit death count, they nonetheless set out to kill Jack.
Beulah is Fa'Got's assistant, played by Deb Jackman. She's the token overweight, unattractive woman: we see her in an ill-fitting pink bikini, and screaming maniacally in the shower while sucking up her breasts with a plunger. One of Jack's buds "takes one for the team" and sleeps with her, and she's overdubbed with squealing pigs.
Paul Pope is Sergeant Fudge, who doesn't serve much purpose, and Mary Sexton plays a cross-eyed Korean woman with big buck teeth. Her lines are, approximately, "chingchongchingchong."
There aren't many actual jokes written into the script - the only time the audience laughed on Saturday night was towards the end of the film, when Jack says they're toast, but not the jam and butter kind.
The film uses a lot of green screen, a lot of split screen, and a lot of negative effects and neon. The sound is terrible: voices and mouths are out of synch, there's random dubbing and it's genuinely difficult to listen to.
I interviewed Donny Love before I went to the film and he emphasized over and over that the production value was lousy. That seemed to be part of the film and part of the vision for him.
The point, he kept saying, was the shock value. The humour.
I also interviewed Mary Sexton before I saw the film. Sexton was the producer of "George Street TV" when it aired on the Comedy Network, so she knew Love and Brown and the style of entertainment they enjoyed.
"The day I went and shot with the crowd, I ran into them and they said, 'All we want you to do is play a Korean woman,'" she says. "I said, 'Well I don't speak Korean,' and they said, 'Oh, we'll fix all that, we just want you to have your eyes crossed.' Because that's sort of my trademark: when I'm frustrated with people I'll always cross my eyes."
When I asked her why she agreed to play the part, she said that the film wasn't scripted, that it was mostly improv and shot scene by scene. So, she never saw a script, and didn't know much about the plot.
"I was anxious to see the film, I didn't know how I was going to be portrayed and I looked insane," she says. "I'm a Korean with eyes crossed that doesn't speak Korean."
"But there are jokes against the Taliban as well," she adds.
If the joke is the fact that the Taliban are portrayed by white people in brownface using fake East Indian accents, then yes, there is one joke "against the Taliban."
After I saw the film, I got director Kent Brown on the phone.
"We were at the tail end of 'George Street TV' and I really wanted to get into movies and move into directing," says Brown. "I was looking for the right story that would give me as much freedom as I wanted to be as crazy and insane as I wanted with this movie, to make it for a generation of kids who grew up on the Internet, for whom 'crazy' and 'bizarre' have a whole different meaning than they did to you and me growing up.
"The artistic vision really is a total stoner vision," he adds. "It's a movie that, if there is any artistic vision, it's about pure outrageousness. If it's funny, then it stays."
He says that he never intended Sexton's character to be racist, and his account of her character's genesis is quite different from hers.
"There's a funny story to why that character was played like that," he says. "We didn't want (Sexton) to have to remember any lines. We just had her talk like she was talking in a foreign language and she happened to cross her eyes, it was wonderful. She did all that herself, she brought that part to the character.
"When you're comedians ... well, we are incredibly politically incorrect. And if there is a little bit of racism, then I'm certainly not worried about it. Doing characters like Richard (Fa'Got), that's way more fun than being racist. And, y'know, racism isn't cool, period."
I can't find any merit in "Stoner FM." I can't find anything in "Stoner FM" other than a terrible film that shouldn't have gone beyond YouTube. It isn't funny and it isn't shocking. People make fun of brown people and Asian people and gay people and women all the time, and they do it just like that.
I get the sense that Kent Brown and Donny Love think the real joke is on anyone who bought a ticket to see the film, wrote an article about the film or participated in the film or, for that matter, that the movie even exists.