(director/writer: Jack Henry Robbins; screenwriters: Nate Gold/Nunzio Randazzo; cinematographer: Nate Gold; editor: Avner Shiloah; cast: Mason McNulty (Ralph), Jake Head (Ralph’s Dad), Rahm Braslaw (Josh), Kerri Kenney (Joan), Thomas Lennon (Tony V), Mark Proksch (Teddy), Christian Dreup (Ralph’s Mom); Runtime: 72; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Delaney Schenker; Oscilloscope Laboratories; 2019)

“Weird experimental film, that’s not for everyone.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The thirty-something Jack Henry Robbins (“Opening Night”) is the son of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. The aspiring director helms this weird experimental film, that’s not for everyone (especially most mainstream viewers) but seems to wow those who really take to its wacky excesses. It’s shot entirely on vintage VHS and Betacam cameras, and plays out as a fictional comedy story that’s partly a coming-of-age dramedy, partly one of found footage and partly about channel surfing. Robbins and co-writers Nate Gold and Nunzio Randazzo shoot for a parody of the 1980s and its late-night cable television phenomena, but also strive for greater meaning by pointing out what an impact this new technology had on the future generations. It offers a wide assortment of images as nostalgia, while leading to a surreal twist at the climax when the gimmicky film is seemingly running out of steam and the various tapes mysteriously merge together causing a confusing new reality. The high concept conceit begs for a midnight-movie showing.

For one week in December 1987, the 12-year-old Ralph (Mason McNulty) fumbles around at night with his family’s Christmas gift to him of a new video camera, as he unwittingly films such things as home videos and his favorite TV shows over his parents’ wedding tape. Having a blast with him is his best pal Josh (Rahm Braslaw), who stays with him while his parents are out. The kids are great, giving totally believable natural performances.

The cute indie about a smart kid with a shiny new toy he becomes obsessed with that lets him tape away to his heart’s content, has an overkill kind of a sense of humor that might be cutting but might be even more shallow than the programs it’s goofing on that are already parodies of themselves.

An assortment of TV comedians like Thomas Lennon, Kerri Kenney, Mark Proksch, and Charlyne Yi appear on the faux tapes, as well as the director’s real parents in a cameo.

It’s a clever idea to make such a different kind of film about the wonders of VHS tape. It respects the new age of technology that changed the world forever, while on a serious note warns us of technology’s dark side. For me, already a mature adult in the 1980s, I was grateful the new recording technology made it possible to see movies at home that I might never see in a theater.

But I found the film too absurd and silly at times, as it brought back mostly unwanted memories of commercials, infomercials, and surfing for softcore porn. Though not all its tapes worked, nevertheless it was sometimes very funny in uncanny ways. A good example would be the current event show with the know-it-all cultural female philosopher who goes on about the phenomenon of “tape narcissism” and warns that “one day the world will exist only to be filmed.”

REVIEWED ON 1/18/2020  GRADE: B-  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/