Friday, November 9, 2012

Dust Up: In (Some) Theaters and on DVD

The never-boring Dust Up, which recently enjoyed a one-week run at Brooklyn’s reRun Theater via Tugg (the crowd-sourced version of on-demand), is out on home video on November 13. My recommendation, if you’re a fan of B-movies and exploitation flicks, is simply this: catch it. It’s quite possibly my favorite new entry in those categories for 2012.

The DVD label that's releasing Dust Up, Breaking Glass Pictures, has for some time been championing the kind of offbeat, often ultra-indie productions that play festivals here and there, and then can all-too-easily vanish without a trace. The quality of those releases can be hit or miss, as you might imagine, but I never regret checking them out, and with writer-director Ward Roberts Breaking Glass has an undeniable talent to unleash upon the viewing public.

Deftly mixing dimestore noir and sun-fried Western to serve up a demented pastiche of action movies, Roberts tells a simple tale with familiar tropes but does it so engagingly that you’ll be reminded of why you gravitate to those elements in the first place. And this is not as easy as it sounds. Let’s consider the basic narrative material: a stoic, one-eyed recluse battles a drug-dealing bar owner in the desert, tries to protect the cutest baby in recent movie memory, and trades deadpan one-liners with his “Native American” buddy. As you may have already surmised, there’s certainly the possibility that the end product here could have been a dismal, ‘90s-style, sub-sub Tarantinoesque effort filled with cloying irony, forced banter, and self-conscious “shocks.” And while, yes, there’s certainly some self-awareness in the script—how can one produce an exploitation flick in this decade of this century with the same straight-ahead approach as forty years ago?—Roberts clearly takes his cinema aesthetics seriously. The result is a highly entertaining gore-spangled romp that recalls Russ Meyers as well as early Sam Raimi and early Coen Brothers but never seems beholden to them. In this effort, it should be noted, Roberts is ably assisted by the wonderful cinematography of Shannon Hourigan, who renders all the colors hyper-vibrant but never garish, and by Kirkpatrick Thomas’s consistently fun score.

I’ve seen the film referred to as “Amber Benson’s Dust Up,” which is natural given the name recognition of the former Buffy star, but this does little to showcase what is arguably its chief strength: the remarkably winning job done by its entire cast. There’s not a bad performance in sight, and even in the minor roles, where one senses that friends, crew members and non-professional actors may have joined in the high jinks, there’s never a false note. Benson and Aaron Gaffey turn in very solid work as the leads, which includes impressively handling the range in shifts in mood and tone that the story throws their way. But what really makes the film for me are the terrific jobs by Jeremiah W. Birkett, Devin Barry, and Travis Betz—all three of them hilarious and memorable. And since at least one of this trio seems to appear in nearly every scene, Dust Up kept a smile on my face for pretty much for the duration of its runtime.

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