(director/writer/editor: Bryan Johnson; cinematographer: David Klein; editor: Scott Mosier; music: Ryan Shore; cast: Brian Christopher O’Halloran (Will Carlson), Bryan Johnson (Syd), Jerry Lewkowitz (Ed Fanelli), Ethan Suplee (Frankie Fanelli), Matt Maher (Gino Fanelli), Jay Petrick (Wilma Carlson), Thomas W. Leidner (Large Bum), Michael Tierney (Skinny Bum), Kevin Smith (Martan Ingram); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Monica Hampton; Lions Gate Films; 2000)
“As unseemly as its title suggests.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
There’s something positive and exhilarating about seeing what’s advertised materialize. “Vulgar” was as unseemly as its title suggests. Though I don’t think I quite wanted to see a homosexual gang rape of a clown but, in fairness, it was carried out tastefully in the name of art. “Vulgar” was written, edited, acted, and directed by Bryan Johnson. It was produced by the same team that gives us the Kevin Smith films, and Mr. Smith has a small part as a TV producer and also was co-executive producer along with editor Scott Mosier.
“Vulgar” is set in a depressive drug-infested nameless suburb of New Jersey where a gentle young soul, Will Carlson (O’Halloran), is hardly eking out a living as a children’s party clown named Flappy. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, has a tender heart and a desire only to make children happy, which means he’s too unreal for this cold world and just about everybody shits on him. We first see Will arrive to perform at a child’s birthday party, but the act is canceled when the child’s father acts abusive to his mother and is arrested.
Will’s concerned that he can’t get enough children party gigs to pay his bills and keep his nasty mother off his back. She resides in an old age home, where each visit he gets an uncalled for tongue-lashing. He confers with his best friend Syd (Bryan Johnson) about an idea to expand his clown act into the adult world and get hired by those giving bachelor parties. Will changes his name to Vulgar for these gigs and places an ad in a local newspaper, and cheerfully goes out to his first assignment as a transvestite “stripper”–he’s there as a joke on the groom before the real stripper comes out. But he runs into a nightmare, as his first customers are the depraved and sadistic father Ed Fanelli (Lewkowitz) and his two psychopathic sons, Gino (Maher) and Frankie (Suplee). The family trio gang rape him all night and force him to mouth dirty words they ply him with, while Gino videotapes the whole ordeal. Flappy is too humiliated to tell the police or anyone but Syd, whom he swears to secrecy.
A year passes, and while Flappy is in his clown outfit going to a children’s party he stumbles upon a hostage situation of an abusive father holding a gun to his child. Flappy rescues the child and becomes an instant national celebrity. This leads to a children’s TV program called Flappy’s Funhouse, as the once ridiculed and downtrodden clown becomes a famous personality and role model hero to youngsters. But the ghosts from the past reappear, as Ed hears of his sudden fame and now bribes him for $50,000 or else he says he’ll blow his cover and show the public the career damaging tape. So the clown is boxed into a corner and seeks the help of his best friend to get an untraceable gun to avenge his rape.
It’s a repulsive movie, alright. But it holds your interest and captures the daring indie spirit. The story itself is impactful without having anything relevant to say. There are no messages other than the shocking “Deliverance” style rape scene. It’s a sordid film that can actually be enjoyed for its strangeness, but most likely by probably only cult movie fans.
REVIEWED ON 12/13/2002 GRADE: B-