Released: 29th May 2018 (VOD & DVD)
Seen: 12th May 2018 (Backer Screener)
In late 2013 I gave a small amount of money, enough for a shirt and a copy of the film, to a crowdfunding page for a movie made by Penn Jillette. I have to open with this so you not only are aware of my potential for bias since I literally threw my money at this film to help get it made (I’m pretty sure my 30 bucks went to a bottle of blood, that’s what I like to think anyway) but so you have an idea of how long I’ve been eager to see this film. From the moment I saw the first trailer where the entire concept was “Penn Jillette want’s to play a bad guy” I knew this was going to be something interesting so I ponied up the dough and now I’ve finally seen a copy of the movie, I feel like it’s the kind of movie I would gleefully review. So, you now know ahead of time my biases, now we can get to the meat of this review.
Directors Cut is a loving dissection of cinema tropes for the modern era. Taking the idea of DVD extras like commentaries and the titular directors cuts to their logical extreme, the movie presents us with a simple question… what if a complete batshit psychopath was the one to be in charge of putting together that cut? The film doesn’t just play with the film tropes, it puts those tropes in front of a train and runs over them several times for the perverse enjoyment of the audience. We don’t just have a slow-motion entrance scene of our leading lady, we have a super-slow-motion scene that takes up more screen time than several major characters. We don’t just get an elaborate sex scene, we get told how it was a closed set and are explicitly told where the nipple pasties are so we’re absolutely aware that the main actress didn’t want to do this scene, but it was in the script and she’s a professional. This film is tearing itself apart before the audience’s eyes and the audience is unable to look away.
The decision to use a commentary track as the main storytelling device is genius, although it does take a moment to catch onto what’s actually going on. I say this as someone who literally has read a copy of the script (Another backer perk) and as someone who heard Penn Jillette describe the entire plot in vivid detail several years ago on his podcast. Even with that knowledge, it still took a moment for me to get used to the idea but once I did, it definitely helped make things feel uneasy. Even during comedic moments when Herbert Blount (Penn’s character) is drawing on the screen, there’s this building sense of dread that really works well for the movie and the commentary track helps give it all a sense of consistency.
That consistency helps when things start getting weird because it’d be easy to get lost without that soothing voice of our ‘director’ helping us along. Jillette created a very fascinating character in Herbert Blount, using his natural kind manner to hide some incredibly dark sides to this person who is like Annie Wilkes from Misery, but for the digital age. Something about that unnatural smile on his face and his uncontrolled mane of hair resting atop of that bright gaudy suit that he wears throughout the film, you simultaneously want to hug him and run away from him as fast as you can. I’m not sure how you can simultaneously hug someone and run away from them, but Herbert makes you want to figure out how that could be done.
Obviously, this film is lifted up mostly by the performance of its star, Missi Pyle, who shines in the leading role that allows her to show off exactly what she can do. She get’s to do a little of everything and somehow pulls it all off. It’s very easy to see why Herbert is obsessed with her because her performance is obsession-worthy. She’s also just so game for anything, it’s impressive seeing how she dove in with both hands and did things that I’m sure most actresses would avoid. Heck, the entire movie is literally about someone obsessing over her and I’m sure that has to be strange to be a part of, there’s a lot of Missi in this movie and she really had to open herself up a fair amount in order to get this on screen, but she does it wonderfully and makes you root for her the entire time.
The film itself looks perfect, the elements of Knocked Out (The movie that this is a directors cut of) actually looks like a really good movie. I’d genuinely watch the hell out of the original cut, it looks like a lot of fun and would belong side by side with a ton of cheesy 90’s cop movies that are always a good time. This film works pretty much entirely thanks to the top-notch script by Penn and the insanely clever direction by Adam Rifkin. They’ve effectively had to write and direct multiple films and intricately weave them together, like threads on a really fucked up piece of fabric. It’s incredible that, somehow, this film works but the fact that it does is down to those two madmen who put this together.
In the original Make Penn Bad video that announced this project, Penn described this film as “Nutty”… for the first time in his life, I think Penn may have been making a pretty big understatement there. This film isn’t nutty, this film is batshit fucking crazy with a side of insane and a tall glass of completely goddamn bonkers on the side to wash it down with. Director’s Cut isn’t like anything you’ve seen before, it tears apart every convention that film has and destroys them for no other reason than because it can. It’s insane and it’s weird and it’s wrong but so right all at the same time. It’s genuinely everything I hoped it would be and then some and as long as you’re in the exact right frame of mind, you’ll love this movie. Just go along for the ride and hold on tight because Penn truly found out what it would be like if he played a bad guy… and I like it.
Also, not that it matters, but in the interest of fairness since I did back this film, I’m not going to allow myself to put it on my best of year list… maybe as an honorable mention, we’ll see when we get there, but I won’t put it on either numbered list because that feels wrong.