This reviewer has just come from the world premiere of Esteban Louis Powell's new movie, Random Acts of Violence, in which he plays Chris Donds, a fresh-faced New Jersey boy, who in the course of his first three days at the University of California in Los Angeles, gets involved in loose living, la vida loca, botched drug deals, counterfeiting, armed robberies, a drive-by shooting, and some really, really dangerous things, too. The recurrent theme of the movie is that this is normal life in L.A. Speaking as a native Angeleno, I must protest: UCLA would never allow an entry-level class to have as few students in it as that in which Chris meets Bryce, his crazy new friend who isn't above taking a lot of short-cuts to achieve his goal of becoming a nightclub owner and promoter. (As for that other stuff about Los Angeles . . . well . . . let's just say that I, for one would really like to upgrade my bullet-proof vest!)
Written and directed by Drew Bell & Jefferson Langley (who manages to out-Tarantino Tarantino in his obligatory Hitchcockian cameo), and co-produced by them and co-stars Powell and Alex Solowitz, Random Acts of Violence suffers from that great error of beginning filmmakers who under-estimate their own abilities: it was shot on 16mm film, as opposed to the more professional standard of 35mm. This means that it looks fine when projected with a 16mm projector, but relatively few movie theaters in the United States use them any more. That, dear readers is a costly mistake made by far too many filmmakers operating on a low budget: 16mm is MUCH cheaper to film and process, but it usually looks like hell when blown up to 35mm for screening in the vast mega-chains of multi-plex theaters which make up the bulk of American movie houses today.
There are tremendous numbers of wonderful films being made around the world which receive few (if any) theatrical screeenings because of this harsh fact of life in the entertainment industry. Few and far between are the films shot on 16mm which can survive the transition to big-screen, wide distribution. Clerks is one example of a 16mm film which was successful beyond anyone's expectations. It remains to be seen if Random Acts of Violence can be the next big breakthrough from the 16mm ghetto of low-budget filmdom.
Seen is the operative word here. If ever there was a movie crying out to enter the golden realm of midnight movies and eternal video rentals, it is Random Acts of Violence. µade by twenty-somethings, starring twenty-somethings, it will appeal to millions of twenty-somethings around the world (or at least in the United States, which is the world's biggest film market). Once Random Acts of Violence has been seen by even a few thousand people, this reviewer has no doubt that -- thanks to word-of-mouth advertising (always the best kind) it will quickly pay for itself many times over. Paradoxically, had the film been shot in 35mm it might quickly find a national distributor who would play it for a month or so, and then shelve it; as a 16mm film, it could achieve cult status.
This is not to suggest that this is what Bell & Langley were aiming for. On the contrary, by their own admission, they were just looking to create a project for people in their own age bracket to act in and for a similarly youthful audience to see. What they managed to create was a hideously funny, tragi-comic world in which Chris Donds is like a modern Candide, suffering every imaginable misfortune while disaster after disater befalls everyone around him. And just as Voltaire's Candide was an unexpected success, so, too, Random Acts of Violence has the look of a film which will be similarly successful, although not, perhaps, in the ways in which the filmmakers intended. Many people try to make "midnight movies," and the result is usually not worth the film used to make it. Truly successful "midnight movies" have an earnestness about them and a sincerity which is undeniable, a certain feel of, "We would have done this differently if we had $100,000,000, but we didn't, so we did the best we could." Bell & Langley and their dedicated cast and crew seem to have the best they could, too, and, given their miniscule budget, their best is very good indeed. (It certainly seemed to please the young Hollywood glitteratti who were there for the premiere: this reviewer sat next to Ethan Embry, his fellow White Squall-er Jeremy Sisto was a few seats to my left, David Faustino was three seats in front of me, and I shan't even begin to name the actors and actresses who didn't sit down front with us!)
If you don't like movies about drugs and violence, you shouldn't see Random Acts of Violence except to expand your horizons a little. If you don't mind modern urban violence movies, you will probably like the film. However, if you can relate to a world in which there are "random acts of violence," and in which drug deals go down every day, in which college students skip classes because they have been out all night partying, if you can see the macabre humor in Grand Guignol cinema-noir, then you can relate to my giving Random Acts of Violence my highest rating: W8: Worth $8.00.
By the way, if you are a true Esteban Louis Powell fan, never mind the cost, this is a must-see movie for you! As one of Esteban's long-time promoters, I speak from experience on this point. Trust me! Esteban fans who miss this film will kick themselves when they find out from others all of the details of the film, details which, because it is, after all, an urban thriller, I shall not divulge in this review!
O Muse With the Jaundiced Eye, take me home!