Down & Out II - A Film Review

"Down & Out 2 ??? Who the fuck ever heard of Down & Out 1 ???"

Directed by: Scott Shapiro, James Sullos, Salvador Gonzalez, & Wasim Muklashy
Starring: Scott Shapiro, Tracy Nesseth, Lee Schal, Michele
LeCastre, Wasim 'Tony' Muklashy, and a cast of many...
Reviewed by:  Jeff Collins

There is an early scene in Scott Shapiro’s epic film DOWN & OUT 2 that epitomizes what is to come. A family is gathered together to enjoy the young son’s new birthday present. A discussion is going on that makes the young boy “flashback” to an earlier incident while running track at school – a handicapped kid on crutches falls over while trying to outrun a kid in a wheel chair and the young boy in question. Is this funny? Well, yeah, I chuckled. Did it make sense? Well, no. But in this movie, making sense doesn’t really matter. It’s situational mayhem that matters – not the plot.

Scott Shapiro is one of our brethren posters here on ASFN, more commonly known as Cheesebeef (a moniker apparently taken from the hero in this movie). He’s a self-proclaimed darksider who on occasions sips the Cardinal kool-aid. Judging by his posting style, I figured this film was going to be a little different and I was not disappointed! In the tradition and shadow of a Troma movie, DOWN & OUT 2 serves up scene after scene of extravagant characters in wacky situations complete with a superhero (Cheesebeef) somewhat reminiscent of Lloyd Kaufman’s Toxic Avenger. But this movie doesn’t focus on Cheesebeef the super hero – he just sort of shows up.

Let’s see if I can set the stage here. DOWN & OUT 2 has two separate personalities as there are really two plot lines going on – the plotline of a dysfunctional family spending an evening at home together, and the plotline of the cable movie that the family decides to watch. Dad tunes the cable box to “DOWN & OUT 2” when he reads from the TV guide that the film is “the sequel to the cult classic DOWN & OUT described as a rip roaring joyride through the human psyche” (the cable movie is anything but family friendly of course). We follow the cable movie with an occasional return to the family. The cable movie loosely centers on an attractive young woman who is seeking revenge on an asshole boyfriend. It’s filled with strange characters and scenes that try to push the boundaries of bad taste – some succeed, others fall short. There are a whopping three bathroom scenes (one of which starts excessively gross before making a brilliant comic turn when it becomes a “got milk” commercial). There is an extended lesbian make-out scene (I would prefer three lesbian scenes to one bathroom scene but that’s just me J). There are several scenes of body organs being eaten (judging by the spaghetti-like entrails, it looks like the filmmakers must spent some time reading Lloyd Kaufman’s book “everything I learned about filmmaking I learned from the Toxic Avenger”). And then there are the chickens. Those evil chickens taking over the world. Thank god Cheesebeef motivates himself to get off his lazy ass and save the world from these menacing peckers.

While I can’t say that I understood or was really amused by the chicken scenes, some of the other scenes from the cable movie hit paydirt (including an inspired scene where a drunken guy hits on a beautiful girl at the end of the bar). However, too many scenes play like a series of inside jokes, which of course are only funny to those who are on the inside. Take for instance the character who always wears a traffic cone on his head. There is a build-up of interest in why he always wears the cone. But just when he finally starts to disclose why he wears it, he suddenly stops and doesn’t let us in on the secret. There is no payoff for the audience. Though the editing generally looked professional and sharp throughout, some of the inside-joke material could have wound up on the cutting room floor.

Where the film really works is when it focuses on the lovable yet dysfunctional family. Even though the credits claim that there was no script, the family scenes seem well written and thought out. The acting is strong and the characters develop as the film progresses. Shapiro’s direction really excels in these situations. Well-paced family tension develops as the kids discover a mysterious package in their parent’s closet. I won’t give away the surprise, but it’s a good piece of filmmaking as we watch the scenes develop until the package is opened to the surprise of everyone. In contrast to the improvisation-oriented and visually low-budget nature of the cable movie scenes, the family scenes are polished, smart and professional.

All in all, this flick offers an entertaining and enjoyable ride. I especially like Tracy Nesseth’s performance as well as all of the actors who played the family. I like the Cheesebeef character. The camera work, while low budget, is fresh and interesting, and the dysfunctional family storyline is intriguing. I don’t know how our friend Cheesebeef got the money to make this movie but I would love to see what he could do with a bigger budget and a more focused plot. Oh, and by the way Cheesebeef, for your next film, can you use an Arizona Cardinals flag as a backdrop instead of a Phoenix Suns flag?