Review: INDIE GUYS (2016) Delivers The Cinematic Love/Hate Relationship You Crave


I have to credit my latest interview subject, actor and rising star José Manuel, whose own career progression has been much more mobile than I imagined over the past several years. At some point back then, it appears his journey landed him somewhere in Wisconsin and in the throes of writing/directing duo, actors Jarrod Crooks and Greg Kuper, leaving in their wake what I think is one of the most discernible odes to cinema and the love of cinema to date.

Indie Guys presents a hilarious, healthy and hearty mix of mumblecore comedy and drama at the forefront of our tale telling of local indie filmmakers Ian (Crooks) and Gordon (Kuper) as they struggle to complete their newest and most ambitious action movie with only a skeleton crew and, much to their chagrin, no money. From bizzare auditions and casting near-complete strangers at the last minute to creative differences that threaten to fracture the production, the film is unafraid to shed an often grim and very real light on the woes of being a starving artist whilst pursuing one's dream for the sake of progress and notoriety, and not necessarily in that order.

On-set woes aren't all there is as you might imagine while the film delves further into the complicated lives of both aspiring auteurs; Ian is a stoic, albeit easy going restaurant cashier eager to be an action star and whose dominant focus on the film has begun affecting his already-strained relationship with girlfriend, Amy (Shannon McDonough). His characteristic opposite, Gordon, is a local fireman burdened by his demotion to house guard while dealing with weight issues and balancing the demands of being both filmmaker and bread winner of the family with wife Tina (Cathy Rasmussen), whose own support of her husband's pastime is not without constant caution.

The film introduces you to an array of colorful characters ranging from the admirable and loveable to the obnoxious and downright detestable. Marie Sirena stars as theater actress Stephanie who is quick to catch the attention of Ian and the reluctant Gordon as the female lead they need for their movie. Smaller notables get to stand out quite a bit in this one as well; Jane Leahy scores a few scenes in the film as aspiring actress Katherine whose farcical attempts at Shakespearean gravitas is near limitless. Justin Crooks leads probably one of the best scenes of the film with Gordon surrounded by friends and family as a group dialogue turns what should have been healthy feedback into a manifestation of maddening deluge of what might as well be internet commentary from YouTube.

The aforementioned Manuel, best known as the star of Puerto Rico's premiere martial arts action movie, El Testigo (The Witness), brings comedic flair and personality to the robust role of Sanchez who himself dreams of film stardom. For this, one might also take a liking to the film's movie-within-a-movie elements, many of which allow Crooks and some of the cast to spread their wings and showcase themselves as talented screenfighters. This also plays brilliantly into some of the fleeting moments in which Ian tries to escape the reality he abhors - one example of this sets in which witness a blaring dispute with his manager and a customer are woven into its own trailer with all the tropes and promise of a Stallone-esque blockbuster ripe with big explosive action and over-the-top cheese; It's an embellishment among many that isn't too hamfisted for the film's needs, and rather invoked just enough to for the actors to be actors and accomodate the respective highs and lows in each scene while allowing the viewers to a relax to a fun, thematically compelling and engaging movie.

Not a lot of filmmakers can follow the mumblecore formula and still weave together a cohesive, watchable movie. Crooks and Kuper did, as much as it delighted me for my own introduction to their resumé in film, and particularly with respect to the action genre - even moreso for a film that's not even an action movie to begin with. The film is well acted, the story is tight as are some of the film's slightly more forthright and dramatic scenes, and the characters are fun to observe in all their respective faults and imperfections.

It goes without saying, though I'll say it anyway since netizens tend to fall into entropy and the last thing I need are people giving me side-eye on Facebook. A film like Indie Guys won't be for everyone, even maybe some action fans. I guarantee, however, that for a film with means as limited as this one, Crooks and Kuper definitely play their cards right on this one, and from nearly all angles, and how they managed to get a certain controversial daytime talk show host for a guest role is beyond my understanding, but I'm not irked by it, so I'll allow it.

Consequently, the film is especially a plus for Crooks in his own stake as an actual action talent, and being that this is my first rodeo with a Jarrod Crooks movie, I won't say no. As an actor, he serves his purpose. As genuine film professional and camera-friendly action talent, he has all the growing acumen one needs to make a daring fight spectacle that would go so far to say would even make Jackie Chan proud.

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