As someone who has performed improvisational comedy professionally for over twenty-five years, I can fully attest that the improv comedy you see performed on stage does not translate easily to film. With improv factories like Second City, UCB, and Groundlings pumping out comedians on their high-speed conveyor belts of chuckles, Hollywood indie filmmakers are churning out films that are hard-pressed to capture the make-it-up-on-the-spot magic conjured from your mainstage improv show.
So, how does Josh Sutherland and Shelley Pack’s indie comedy Chasing Molly fair amongst the crowded comic field? Verdict: Better than most. The film opens with a pair of con-artists, Molly (Shelley Pack) and Atticus (Jim Cashman), on the phone with clients/suckers of their Demon Cleaners business. Posing as paranormal experts, they come to their client’s homes and conduct exorcisms while snatching various items and heirlooms from their unsuspecting victims in the process. They cleverly take things that their targets won’t notice is gone right away.
“…unfortunately for Atticus, she sold all the drugs and, in the process, robbed of all the money she earned selling the drug.”
Trouble comes when the henchman of an infamous mob boss, Mr. Black (Kurt Angle), needs the duo to cleanse their criminal hideout. While on the job, Atticus steals an innocuous teapot from an office desk drawer. While going through the teapot afterward, it is filled with some kind of narcotic. Taking the drug to an “expert,” they find out it’s some form of high-grade ecstasy. After just a minute, the “expert” feels like he can “suck his own dick.” Excited, the pair records his reaction for an internet video and to start selling the drug.
This discovery begins a wacky montage of clandestine sales transactions ending with the abduction of Atticus’ by Mr. Black himself. Contacting Molly, Mr. Black tells her to return the drugs she stole, or he’ll kill Atticus and track her down as well. Molly agrees, but unfortunately for Atticus, she sold all the drugs and, in the process, robbed of all the money she earned selling the drug.
Chasing Molly falls in the category of a talking comedy, where laughs are drawn primarily by what everyone says, i.e., the actors say something funny, and you laugh. Scenes are strung together to create a loose narrative, but ultimately we have a series of comic sketches laid end-to-end. The film’s success relies solely on how each scene makes you laugh. This is not a negative as the Marx Brother’s built an entire stage and film career on this practice.
“…Pack delivers a pretty strong performance from start to finish. Though she talks a lot, what she says is clever and induces real laughs at times.”
So, is Chasing Molly a good indie comedy? As stated previously, It’s better than most. Let’s start with the good. Shelley Pack both wrote the film and plays the lead Molly, and she delivers a pretty strong performance from start to finish. Though she talks a lot, what she says is clever and induces real laughs at times. She never resorts to rambling streams of consciousness leading to nowhere indicative of the improv-inspired films. Jim Cashman is also good as her lower-status sidekick and matches her comedic energy. The film also boasts nice cameos from WWE Hall-of-Famer Kurt Angle and The Guild’s Felicia Day and Jeff Lewis as Skullf$cker.
But like most comedies such as this, much of the film is built on humorous ideas as opposed to laugh-inducing jokes and gags. Examples of its good humor include a gang who supplies guns discussing their business as a multi-level marketing scheme, there’s also a funny exchange about blowjobs, and a pair of cops running through improv warm-ups before an upcoming audition—very silly indeed.
On the other side, the physical comedy came up short, like the silly encounter with a temple monk involving lame martial arts. Also, a lot of the film’s silliness just go on too long, like drug supplier Skullf$cker cussing someone out while babysitting a bunch of kids. For every scene that works, there are two or three that don’t. Unlike most indie comedies that never should have been made, Chasing Molly is just a few rewrites away from being a good film and earning a recommendation.
Chasing Molly (2019) Directed by Josh Sutherland. Written by Shelley Pack. Starring Shelley Pack, Jim Cashman, Kurt Angle, Felicia Day.
5.5 out of 10 stars