by Alexander C. Kafka
A shy high-school student asks a girl out. Desperate for some wheels, he buys a sorry ’65 Chrysler sedan and, with it, a heap of trouble.
That’s not a bad premise for a noir action comedy, but the new release First Date squanders the concept from script through edit in a preposterous, humorless, bloody, and nihilistic mess of a movie.
For their feature debut, the writer-director duo Manual Crosby and Darren Knapp were clearly trying to concoct a spicy blend of Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, and Guy Ritchie. But First Date has no originality, wit, or directorial flair, only derivative burnt scrapings of violence and meanness. Despite one half-hearted, swiftly corroded moment of civility, the screenplay is three-quarters F-bombs, one-quarter cynical shootings and beatings.
The production has an undeniable energy and the unfertilized seeds of its crowded characterizations might have been more ambitiously nurtured. The dynamic between the passive hero Mike (Tyson Brown) and Kelsey (Shelby Duclos), the kickboxing dynamo he desires, is an intriguing gender inversion of the traditional. A misfit crew of baddies also discuss Steinbeck as a book group. And there’s a droll coffee-table meme.
But such promising touches wither under the screenwriters’ sadistic hand, as does the unlikely introduction of an older couple with distinct memories of the junker car. Mike’s passivity, rather than a challenge to overcome, becomes worrisomely defining and dramatically flat. The criminal gang’s constant foul-mouthed blathering, within minutes, becomes merely grating. Michael’s parents are oblivious, Kelsey’s are crass and unfeeling, and a couple sports-car-obsessed neighborhood jocks are insipid teen-farce throwbacks with nothing to say. Only Nicole Berry, as a poker-faced sheriff’s deputy, has any real hint of quirky depth.
Direction is halting toward the beginning but finds its momentum by a tense standoff scene, and sedate Hawaiian-guitar riffs give the score an unexpected, somewhat demented vibe. But ultimately, First Date is just bleak. As social commentary, it’s numb, and as entertainment, it’s numbing.