Friday, October 8, 2010

'Despiser' has great atmosphere on low budget

Despiser (2003)
Starring: Mark Redfield, Doug Brown, Frank Smith, Michael Weitz, Tara Bilkins, Mike Cuccherini, and Philip J. Cook
Director: Philip J. Cook
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Fired from his job, left by his wife, evicted from his home, killed in a car crash, and sent to Purgatory, Doug (Redfield) naturally thinks tings can't worse. But he's wrong. He soon finds himself in the middle of a battle to free the souls of Purgatory from the Shadowmen and an alien force known as the Despiser.

"Despiser" is the sort of movie I never would have believed could work on a low-budget, even in this age of relatively cheap computer graphics. It's a large-scale action/fantasy story with explosions, gunplay, car-chases and subsequent car-crashes, more explosions, and very alien creatures. It also takes place mostly in another dimension.

But producer/director delivers a large and ambitious film that's far beyond the usual low-budget fare with computer graphics taking care of all the very action and set-aspects of the film. These aren't computer graphics that are going to fool anyone--they are only slightly above the level of where the standard computer game was when this movie was released and about at the place where most MMO RPGs are today, but these obvious graphics work because the film embraces them and uses them to emphasize the otherworldly nature of the Purgatory dimension where the film takes place. (There are a couple of instances where computer graphics and blue-screen shots are used in the "real world"--such as the exterior of an apartment building where some characters are out on a ledge, or during the incidident that leads to Doug ending up in Purgatory--that are not as successful as when it's used to represent the world of the afterlife. Fortunately, there aren't many times where Cook does this.)

"Despiser" also features a better-than-average cast with, with Mark Redfield as our confused hero giving a performance worthy of any big-budget action star you'd care to mention. In fact, there was only one single supporting actor giving a stagey, flat, and unconvincing performance in the entire film, although I winced a bit at the inconsistent bad accents affected by Frank Smith (Japanese) and Tara Bilkins (British), but they really didn't have enough lines that it detracted from the movie that much. (Well, maybe Smith did... shortly after the character was introduced, I wondered, "Why does is that Mexican guy wearing a WW2 flight jacket with the Japanese kamakazi rising sun flag on the back?" but shortly thereafter an exchange between characters made me realize Smith was not playing a Mexican but was supposed to be Japanese.)

The film also featured a lean and to-the-point script without a single dull moment. While some of the dialogue could have used a bit of work--the insults and witty action-hero style banter from Doug needed some serious sharpening--the overall script was fun, fast-moviing and thoroughly enjoyable.

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