Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Better Off Dead: "Berserk" an insipid neo-noir with no reason to care


Berserk (2019)
80 min.
Release Date: April 5, 2019 (Limited & VOD)

Actor Rhys Wakefield (2017's "Paint It Black") makes his feature directorial debut with “Berserk,” an insipid black comedy of errors and who’s-playing-who machinations. Co-writing the script with William Day Frank and directing, Wakefield also stars in the film as Evan, a struggling actor and aspiring screenwriter who, within minutes of meeting him, is dropped by his acting agent. To save his career, Evan promises her a finished script that will star his friend, movie star Raffy Rivers (an exhaustingly manic Nick Cannon). When he stops by Raffy’s bachelor pad in the Hollywood Hills to actually begin writing their zombie movie script, Evan comes to the realization that they both have never felt “true, animalistic fear," so the already-high Raffy suggests they consume a “low dosage” of shrooms to get the creative juices flowing. It happens to be Halloween night, and once Raffy begins to think his stalker is back again, the two pals become even more paranoid. It’s all fun and drugs, until someone gets hurt and then Raffy’s angry girlfriend Jazz (Nora Arnezeder, in full-on femme fatale mode) shows up dressed as Marilyn Monroe with a loaded gun. Perhaps a wild night will inspire their writing, or just get them in too deep.

“Berserk” is yet another twisty, quasi-meta Hollywood-insider film about attractive Los Angelenos doing bad things to get what they want. The story takes place entirely in and around Raffy’s hillside estate, and while that should make for some interesting, even berserk chamber drama between its drug-induced characters and unannounced visitors, there’s no reason to care about any of these grating, narcissistic characters and their problems. The fact that we can’t really judge the actual range of their talent in the movie industry is part of the problem, and none of them seem to have enough clout to be part of the 27 Club (artists who died at the age of 27), which gets name-dropped in the opening and closing voice-overs. Cinematographer Mac Fisken (2016's "Carnage Park") likes his drone shots and does bring a neon glow and some psychedelic visual flourish to the film early on as Evan and Raffy embark on a high in the swimming pool, but then a generic, extremely overbearing musical score punctuates every story beat. If it’s intended to be a darkly farcical neo-noir, the tone feels off, and ultimately the lack of stakes and danger renders “Berserk” null and void of much purpose.

Grade: C -

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