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Reviews: Big names lend brief support in ‘Crypto,’ plus ‘Billboard’ and more

(L-R)- Beau Knapp and Alexis Bledel in a scene from “Crypto.” Credit: Lionsgate
Beau Knapp and Alexis Bledel in the movie “Crypto.”
(Lionsgate)

‘Crypto’

From its poster to its premise, the thriller “Crypto” is a classic case of bait-and-switch. The cast includes big names such as Kurt Russell, Alexis Bledel, Luke Hemsworth, Jill Hennessy and Vincent Kartheiser; but they’re all in supporting roles, each in the movie for about 15 minutes or less. And while the plot involves a crime related to the shadowy high-tech world of cryptocurrency, the action plays out like a generic shoot-em-up.

Beau Knapp stars as Martin Duran Jr., a promising young New York money-manager who turns his back on the simple life of his farming father Martin Sr. (Russell) and brother Caleb (Hemsworth). He inadvertently puts them in danger when his crypto-crazy friend Earl (Jeremie Harris) uncovers potential fraud at a small town art gallery, drawing the attention of violent creep Ted Patterson (Kartheiser).

Screenwriters Carlyle Eubank and David Frigerio (working from a Jeffrey Ingber story) throw in a few twists, and director John Stalberg Jr. elicits energetic performances from his star-studded cast. No one appears to be phoning it in.

But neither does anyone come up with a way to make “Crypto” special. Whatever the film has to say about the sketchiness of modern financial wheeling and dealing remains frustratingly non-specific. The characters all feel like they’ve been copied and pasted from hundreds of other movies that end with armed standoffs in some featureless field or warehouse.

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The coveted currency may be shiny and new. The machinations of the heroes and villains are so old they creak.

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‘Crypto’

Rated: R, for language throughout, some violence, sexuality and drug use

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Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD

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‘Billboard’

John Robinson in a scene from the movie “Billboard.” Credit: Indie Rights
John Robinson in the movie “Billboard.”
(Indie Rights)

It’s a shame that writer-director Zeke Zelker’s indie comedy “Billboard” is so choppy and directionless, because the movie’s heart is in the right place. A throwback to the shaggy “slobs against the snobs” pictures of the 1970s and ‘80s, the film’s like “Meatballs” or “Stripes” … but, alas, without a Bill Murray.

“Billboard” stars John Robinson as Casey Lindeweiler, the owner of a failing Allentown, Penn., AM alt-rock radio station, who decides to boost ratings by holding an old-fashioned endurance contest, offering a prize to whoever can live on a billboard the longest. As the public begins to pay attention to the stunt, the local politicians, a skeptical press and a corporate-owned rival station look for ways to sabotage it.

Zelker’s cast is a fine mix of fresh faces and veteran character actors (including Heather Matarazzo, Leo Fitzpatrick and Eric Roberts); and kudos to him for using real locations around Lehigh County. But the film still falls flat. The contestants and the station employees never develop any more than the most superficial personalities; and the plot lurches from incident to incident, sometimes leaving huge, confusing gaps.

“Billboard” is meant to be the centerpiece of a multimedia project, which includes a web series that presumably fills in some necessary detail. But despite how good-natured this movie is, it just doesn’t stand on its own. It has the right kind of soul, but a shapeless body.

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‘Billboard’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

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‘A Dark Place’

Andrew Scott in a scene from “A Dark Place.” Credit: Shout! Studios
Andrew Scott in the movie “A Dark Place.”
(Shout! Studios)

The low-key, character-driven mystery “A Dark Place” (formerly known as “Steel Country”) is a handsome-looking picture with an accomplished cast and crew, which nonetheless feels a little off from start to finish. Maybe this subtle, persistent dissonance has something to do with the filmmakers’ choice to put three Irish actors in the leading roles, for a story set in western Pennsylvania.

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To be fair, they’re good actors. Andrew Scott brings his usual jittery energy to the part of Donald Devlin, a developmentally disabled garbageman who becomes convinced a young boy on his route has been murdered. As he plays amateur detective, he locks horns with the local authorities, and creates problems for his work-friend Donna (Bronagh Waugh), and for Linda (Denise Gough), the mother of his daughter.

Screenwriter Brendan Higgins keeps the plot simple, creating space for what’s ostensibly a study of modern life in the crumbling Rust Belt (albeit shot in rural Georgia). British director Simon Fellows and his cast though fail to bring a real lived-in quality to this material. “A Dark Place” is earnest enough, but it comes across as phony. It’s hard to do a “local color” drama when everyone’s from out of town.

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‘A Dark Place’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge Hollywood; also on VOD

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‘Rottentail’

Corin Nemec in a scene from “Rottentail.” Credit: Ammo Content and other respective production studi
Corin Nemec in the movie “Rottentail.”
(Ammo Content)

In the Easter-themed splatter-flick “Rottentail,” Corin Nemec plays Peter Cotton, a nebbishy fertility researcher who gets bitten by a mutated rabbit, and transforms into a hideous, bloodthirsty man-bunny. His timing is good, since Anna (Dominique Swain), a good-hearted classmate from his hometown Easter Falls, has just asked him to to help her bring down his former bully Jake (William McNamara), who’s become a money-grubbing televangelist.

Directed and co-written by prolific genre filmmaker Brian Skiba (adapting a graphic novel), “Rottentail” is as goofy as it is gory — and it’s super-gory. Nothing in the movie is meant to be taken seriously: not the pokes at religion, and certainly not Nemec’s squawking were-rabbit. The movie’s overlong and the humor’s too broad, but given that this would-be cult film is aimed at audiences who want something silly and trashy, it’s hard to fault Skiba for just mindlessly mashing those two buttons, over and over.

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‘Rottentail’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD

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‘Made Me Do It’

Kyle Van Vonderen in a scene from “Made Me Do It.” Credit: Nathan Mielke/Indican Pictures
Kyle Van Vonderen in the movie “Made Me Do It.”
(Nathan Mielke / Indican Pictures)

Director Benjamin Ironside Koppin has described his micro-budget horror film “Made Me Do It” as “a crazy experimental art piece mixed with an old school ‘80s slasher film,” which — judging by the murky, muddled finished product — is like dropping a pile of random junk into a museum and calling it a sculpture. Though this movie’s meant to be the origin story for a Jason/Leatherface-like serial killer, the fragmented style — and the choice to have the murderer be mentally challenged — makes it hard to endure.

“Made Me Do It” shuffles among different visual styles, as it bounces between its villain’s backstory and one desperate night in the lives of the brother and sister he’s targeted. The movie looks ugly and feels uglier, without much sense of a larger intent to mitigate the meanness. Koppin’s right that his movie is different from a typical slasher. It’s far, far worse.

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‘Made Me Do It’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge Hollywood

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