Overview: A college graduate returns to his hometown to find that all his friends are involved in some sort of bizarre racing cult that involves never wearing a shirt.
Directed By: David DeCoteau, 2003.
The Case For: The cast is comprised entirely of eye candy, so you can turn off the sound and pretend that the whole movie is just an eighty minute long ad for hair gel.
The Case Against: The centerpiece of the movie is perhaps the weakest excuse for an arcane ritual ever seen outside of a sixth grade Dungeons & Dragons game. I'm fairly certain that even this movie doesn't understand what its own plot is.
You have to hand it to David DeCoteau. He took a script that most directors would say could never be turned into a successful movie, and he proved them right. Think of how much of an ego boost that must have been for all of those other directors! Furthermore, DeCoteau went above and beyond the call of duty in pursuit of his certain failure, teaching filmmakers everywhere a valuable lesson about dedication. He was not content to just put Matthew Jason Walsh's nonsensical script on film. No, that would be lazy in the eyes of David DeCoteau. He wanted to make his mark on the film, so that all who had the misfortune to see it would know that this wasn't just some poorly planned project that gradually slipped away from its delusional cast and crew. No, the world would know that "Speed Demon" was the kind of fuckup that could only come from intense labor and perseverance. So he jazzed up the movie with rapid fire, machinegun edits and one confusing montage after another that completely throw off any sense of continuity. Triumphantly, DeCoteau took a muddled, hairbrained script full of cookie cutter characters and plot holes you could take family vacations in, and he turned it into an unintelligible mess of random jump cuts, pointless bad graphics, and massive amounts of staggering homoeroticism. Together, we will now explore and celebrate DeCoteau's work.
DeCoteau sets his pace right away with the film's opening scene. As Jessie Hamstead, a young man returning home from four years away at college, walks down a stretch of road, two of the film's main devices are established - shitty voiceover narration and shirtlessness. We don't know where Jessie went to school. We don't know why he had to walk all the way back. We don't know exactly where his hometown is, but if I had to guess its name, I'd say probably something along the lines of Manboob Junction. There is some sort of citywide ordinance against wearing men wearing shirts in Jessie's town. Shirts are used so sparingly, the only rational I can come up with is that the wardrobe department could only find two shirts and had to spread them around as carefully as possible. Sadly, the two women in the film, who are both quite attractive, never follow in the topless footsteps of their male counterparts. Actually, two more of the film's motifs are introduced in this opening scene: the disjointed montage - in this case shots of Jessie walking and shots of a blue car moving slowly down a length of road over sound effects that are trying to indicate that the car's actually going very fast - and the wooden acting. The blue car drives past Jessie, then turns sharply and comes to a stop, at no point coming anywhere close to hitting him. Jessie is completely unaffected by this, and does not even seem to acknowledge the car, but one of the riders inside points at him and declares "You should have seen your face!" An odd statement, considering his face at the time looked exactly like it does not, and exactly like it continues to look for the rest of the movie - frozen in a perpetual state of posing for Calvin Klein.
The two riders are Otto, A.K.A. the rich bad guy, and Chain Gang, A.K.A. a character who is actually fucking named Chain Gang. Neither of them are wearing shirts. They make fun of Jessie for going to college, instead of being cool like them and driving up and down the same stretch of road every day for the past four years, looking for people to fail at terrorizing. They threaten to run him down next time they see him and berate him for making them put stress on their beloved car, then invite him to a barbecue in his honor. And thus the confusion begins. All the characters in the movie are supposed to be old friends of Jessie's, yet they mysteriously hate him. The only justification given for this is that they resent him for going off to college, as is evident by the constant mention of how his "college boy learning won't help him" or how "he should have just stayed in college," which is a notoriously difficult feat after graduating.
Jessie makes his way to the Hamstead Garage, where he and his brother Mikey used to help their late father, a racer, work on cars. More importantly, it's an impetus for some of Jessie's constant flashbacks. Whenever his monotone narration of facts that could be easily represented through a line or two of dialogue, or even just a better camera angle, just isn't enough to state the obvious, DeCoteau breaks out a flashback sequence, which is always preceded and followed by a wholly inappropriate , thunderous whooshing sound. That sound is David DeCoteau's favorite device. He uses it to announce flashbacks, scene transitions, time jumps, and the random occurrence of one of the shitty graphic screens that pop up in the middle of other scenes for a few frames, but serve absolutely no purpose. The interesting thing about the flashbacks is that they all correspond to events that happened at least four years ago. There are references sprinkled liberally throughout the movie to how much everyone has changed physically in that time, yet in the flashbacks, they not only look the same, they are frequently wearing the same clothes. DeCoteau is clearly tapping into his French roots and borrowing from the Cinema Nouveau tradition, assuming that the Cinema Nouveau tradition involves making really crappy movies.
Jessie turns around, and suddenly there's a barbecue going on right outside the garage with all of his old friends. You sort of have to wonder how he managed to miss that on the way in. Jessie points out his younger brother Mikey, a smiley, likeable guy who is clearly not going to last more than a scene or two. Mikey inherited the nipples in the family, sporting areolae you could play frisbee with. Also in attendance are the rest of Otto's gang: Road Rage, Clutch, Axle, Chopper, and Wiper. That's right, one of the gang members actually allowed himself to be nicknamed "Wiper." I can think of a long list of names I'd rather be called than "Wiper," including "Buttock," "Spittoon," and "Prairie Oyster." Out of all of the gang members, only Chopper, the female, is wearing a shirt. The movie's only other woman, Natalie, a Sarah Michelle Gellar wannabe, shows up a moment later. Jessie's voiceover introduction for her is, and I quote: "Natalie. I'd known her my whole life." Touching, considering he's known all of these people his whole life. Otto shows up to make it clear that Natalie's his girlfriend now, and Mikey challenges him to a race. Hmm... Jessie's father died racing, and now his loveable kid brother is challenging the bad guy to a race. I predict that Mikey will win and everybody in town will praise the Hamstead name for generations to come. I also predict that Ross Perot will claim a surprise victory in the 2004 election, and Sylvester Stalone will star in a Broadway Musical adaptation of Little Women.
At the race, Otto shows up holding a pendant which the others identify as a Speed Demon. Most of the characters in the movie can barely remember their own lame nicknames, but they have no problem explaining in great detail how Speed Demons are obscure mythological racing deities who are rumored to grant their bearer enhanced speed. The sudden transition to eloquence on the part of such literary greats as Clutch and Wiper is such a shock that it's easy to overlook the fact that a major plot point has just been introduced, and that plot point revolves around obscure mythological racing deities. The race is a cavalcade of sloppy edits that screw with the space-time continuum in ways I'm not entirely comfortable with. For instance, Mikey turns on his nitro and blows past Otto, leaving him way, way behind. But when the camera angle changes, they're suddenly neck and neck, despite Otto never gaining on him. Blowing all possible expectations out of the water, Otto wins the race and Mikey's brakes fail, causing him to crash and die to death. You may want to pause for a moment to let that shocking plot twist fully sink in. It's tough to handle, I know. Only Jessie and Natalie attend the funeral. Seriously, only Jessie and Natalie. The priest doesn't even show up.
After the funeral, Jessie goes back to his house to have a flashback. He recalls seeing his father, the first male in the movie to make his initial appearance with a shirt on, chanting gibberish over a goblet and squeezing a medallion in his hand until Hershey's syrup comes out of it. I imagine that means he's squeezing pretty hard. Jessie wakes up and, as if guided by some mystical force, manages to find a box his father hid long ago, in a hiding place that no man could ever discover - a blatant hole in the middle of a solid brick wall. How could anybody possibly discover that secret without some sort of supernatural guidance? Within the box, Jessie finds a Speed Demon medallion, just like Otto's. And if Jessie was a racer, that might mean something.
Meanwhile, Otto meets up with Road Rage. He tells him that August Moon is approaching, so they have to perform some sort of ritual. Afterwards, they plan on ransacking Jessie's place to look for the medallion. Apparently they tried to find it before Jessie came home, but to no avail. They didn't have the mystical power necessary to find a large hole in a wall, I guess. Road Rage asks why they don't just beat up Jessie and force him to tell them where the medallion is, if Otto's so sure he knows. This is possibly the best question in the movie. In fact, why do they even need to beat him up? Why don't they just ask him if he knows where it is? Jessie doesn't race. He should have no interest whatsoever in the medallion, even if he does believe in its powers. Hell, it belonged to his father who died racing, and his only brother just died racing as well, so you'd think he might even want to distance himself from anything that reminds him of the sport. Otto's response is that, "Then he might know we're looking for it." Somehow, that doesn't quite clarify the problem in my mind. Who gives a shit if Jessie knows they're looking for it? The worst thing that could happen is he doesn't give it to them, which they're already assuming he won't anyway. So this scene raises a bunch of questions but doesn't provide anything I'd call answers. What it does do, however, is pretty much establish that the rest of the movie will be based on assumptions that make absolutely no sense. Whoopee!
Jessie reenacts the chant he saw his father perform, and more syrup pours from his hand into the goblet. I'm sorry. I want to believe that it's blood, but I just can't bring myself to do it. For starters, this rite is performed frequently throughout the movie, and afterwards there are never any cuts or even any remaining "blood" on the participant's hands. Second, it's fucking syrup. As he performs the rite, Jessie narrates that he had "found the key," but then openly admits that he doesn't know what it's a key to. There are a fair amount of things in life that I'll do without any really compelling reason, but bleeding copiously into a goblet and then drinking my own blood is not one of them. Drinking the blood causes a magical montage of Jessie standing there with his eyes closed, his father doing the same rite, and "someone" dressed in all black with a black motorcycle helmet and Jessie's medallion around his neck getting into a black car. Now, because the rider in black has Jessie's medallion, you might be inclined to think that it's actually Jessie. Hell, he even narrates that "Something powerful was taking over." Let me tell you, that would make a lot more sense. I won't spoil the surprise for you just yet, but believe me, when you find out who it really is, you're going to be blown away. And by "blown away," I mean "pissed off."
Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "You know, this movie doesn't sound so bad to me. It's a little predictable, and a little moronic, to be sure, but it's not like there are any random scenes of blatant homoeroticism or anything." Well that's where you're wrong, bucko! Otto and his gang gather to perform the purification ritual in the name of Mikoleth, the Speed Demon they serve. The ritual consists of the following: the gang comes together in a random building that just happens to be available for this sort of thing. There is a pentagram drawn on the floor, before a cheap flashing light dealie, the kind you can get for fifteen bucks from Spencer's if you want to give your dorm room that chic, incredibly tacky feel. All the men in the gang walk around the pentagram in a circle, looking really humiliated to be a part of this. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that they're all dressed solely in boxer briefs. Chopper, however, gets to stay fully clothed and hang in the back. After some laughable call and response bullshit, Otto squeezes his medallion until he fills his own goblet with his "blood." Then he pours the blood over Road Rage, who is the subject of this ritual, despite the fact that in his last scene, Otto said the ritual was to purify Wiper. The other guys then have the delightful task of rubbing the blood all over Road Rage's mostly nude body. They take their damn time, too. Once again, the woman in the group doesn't have to participate, even though she's technically part of the ritual. So while the hot girl stands in the back and doesn't say anything, a bunch of chiseled guys in their underwear oil up another chiseled guy in his underwear. That's not a ritual. That's the beginning of a gay porn film.