2½ stars (out of four)
When it comes to mockumentary filmmaking, there's Christopher Guest, and then there's everybody else. The genius behind "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show" and "This is Spinal Tap" is, sadly, nowhere to be seen in this recent addition to the genre.
That's not to say "NBT: Never Been Thawed" isn't a funny movie--it has moments of Guest-like faux earnestness that instantly mark it as one of the smartest and most insightful comedies of the year. But imitation only takes you so far, and by the film's sagging final 30 minutes, it's evident "NBT" isn't quite up to the master's standards.
For first-time filmmakers Sean Anders, Chuck LeVinus and John Morris, "NBT" was a marathon endeavor. In the course of 18 months, they wrote a script, gathered a bunch of their friends, rewrote the script and shot the movie on what could politely be called a shoestring budget (under $20,000, much of that for Gatorade and beer).
Shawn Anderson (played by Anders), is the absurdly self-important and utterly deluded "president" of the Mesa Frozen Entree Enthusiasts' Club, whose membership consists of the biggest oddballs in the tri-county area. The club meets regularly to discuss innovation in frozen entrees; they also jealously compare collections (Anderson keeps his in special freezers he calls "Goose" and "Mav").
Another member (a safety consultant by day) wears an external bladder that "stores my urine until I'm ready to deal with it on my own terms." Not coincidentally, he wears shorts a lot.
Scott (Scott Isham), a club member/firefighter and "former" gay man, lives with his "formerly" gay wife. He is particularly proud of his stockpile of collectible plates, some of which he has taken from the burning embers of erstwhile homes. "You know," he muses, "people are just so grateful for what we do that they expect us to take a few things."
Then there's Shelly (Shell y Frasier) who works as an abstinence counselor at the local Intercourse Prevention Hotline. She answers calls from people who are on the verge of, and sometimes actually engaged in, having sex. (A sensor on her computer monitor lets Shelly know how critical the situation is; one caller prompts "CODE 5! COITUS IMMINENT!") Al (Allen Zwolle) is desperately in love with Shelly, who is, in turn, utterly devoted to Shawn (but in a chaste way, of course).
The Frozen Entree Enthusiasts also happen to be evangelical Christians, who enjoy gathering at the No Choice Cafe, which is, as its owner proudly points out, conveniently located across the road from the local abortion clinic, so people can enjoy a light lunch on the patio while taunting clinic workers. Coffee is served with swizzle sticks topped by plastic fetuses. Shawn's (recently converted Christian rock) band "The Christers" plays there occasionally in hopes of landing a lucrative contract with a God-fearing music label.
Parts of this movie are whip-smart, while others are, at best, insipid. That split personality makes the film's sensibility hard to pin down: There's the meta-humor angle (i.e. "we know exactly how moronic we're being and that's what we're making fun of, jerk") and then there's the plain old, no-subtext, frat-boy attitude ("now we're just being moronic because it's what comes naturally"). The struggle between high(-ish) and low comedy makes everything feel slightly off-balance.
By the film's end, it's clear that while the premise is plenty amusing, and some of the performances (by first-time actors, in large part) are almost criminally entertaining, the movie has outstayed its welcome by about half an hour. There's not quite enough humanity written into these weirdo s to keep our interest--or our sympathy--engaged for the long haul.
'NBT: Never Been Thawed'
Directed by Sean Anders; written by Anders, Chuck LeVinus and John Morris; produced by LeVinus; music by Thomas Laufenberg, Morris and Anders. A Slippery Chicken and Netflix release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:27. No MPAA rating (strong profanity).
Al McTavisch - Allen Zwolle
Shawn Anderson - Sean Anders
Shelly Toue - Shelly Frasier
Chris Anderson - John Morris
Milo M. Binder - John Angelo
Vince Copecki - Mike Gordon
Scott Baxter - Scott Isham
Matt Daykahn - Charles ArnoldCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times