If you’re a movie geek, you’re probably no stranger to conversations peppered with scraps of film dialogue and pop culture references that maybe only you and your friends get. That’s what the conversations in The Concessionaires Must Die! sound like. A group of youngish adults who work together at the Monarch, an independent movie theater, seem to exist in a cloud of movie trivia, comic books, and superhero memorabilia. At first glance, the film’s characters appear drawn from a stereotype of socially awkward youths who immerse themselves in movies and can’t get a date. But each character in The Concessionaires has a distinct personality and plays an important role in the plotline, which at first looks utterly predictable, and actually, almost does turn out that way. But as the movie unreels, their characters and goofball humor grow on you.
The plot centers around the concessionaires, an affable group of nerds who run the projectors and dish out bonbons and popcorn at the Monarch’s refreshment counter. They’re a motley group whose lives are going nowhere, but still, they seem reasonably content, more or less, living in the glow of the cinematic arclight.
The Monarch is an old-fashioned single-screen movie house, one of a dying breed, that still shows cinematic chestnuts like Fast Times at Ridgemont HIgh, Willow, and Shawshank Redemption to a dwindling audience. It’s not long before the hallowed cinema is under attack from the evil empire — a multi-screen cineplex that’s about to open across the street. It’s run by Jack Fisk (Dan Lauria) and his lame-brained, delusional son, Derek (David A. Cooper). The younger Fisk fancies himself a supervillain right out of the pages of Marvel Comics and occasionally lapses into Tourette’s-like rants against his enemies. Speaking of Marvel, Stan Lee, creator of the Marvel empire, makes a cameo appearance in the film.
“…youngish adults who work together…exist in a cloud of movie trivia, comic books, and superhero memorabilia.”
We learn that Derek holds a major grudge against Monarch projectionist Scott Frakes (David Blue). For reasons that become clear late in the movie — and they’re pretty ridiculous reasons — Derek makes it his mission to annihilate the smaller, funkier, and financially failing theater.
Scott’s co-workers include RJ (Cosby Siringi), who lapses into hilariously awkward babble whenever the girl he has a crush on is near, Ashley (Talia Tabin), a cynical former child TV star whose career has crashed and burned, and Kira (Sarah Sweet), who seems perpetually one step behind the others. The Monarch’s owner, Gabby (Zakareth Ruben), has been offered a pile of cash to sell out to the overbearing Derek and his father, and the theater’s workers embark on a mission to save the place from the hands of the corporate mega-chain — although both we and Scott can’t quite figure out exactly how the group aims to accomplish this. No matter, it’s the spark that pushes the plot forward.
What makes the film appealing are some of the winningly silly side plots and visual gags that keep cropping up. A trio of under-age kids won’t give up in their quest to sneak into an R-rated movie. Jon (John M. Keating), the somewhat older, wiser Monarch employee, catches the would-be gatecrashers each time. At one point, he shares a sympathetic moment with them, waxing on about his own adolescence. He understands that they love the cinema, just like he did when he was a kid, and they desperately want to experience a real film made for grown-ups. Then one of the youngsters sets him straight. “We just want to look at boobies,” the kid says.
“…pop-culture obsessed adults and end up puzzled by the ways of the world.”
The film deftly plays on the theme of pop-culture obsessed youths who’ve become pop-culture obsessed adults and end up puzzled by the ways of the world. Discussing the imminent demise of the Monarch, Scott can’t figure out why Gabby won’t simply keep the money-losing business going. Ashley, somewhat impatiently, explains to him, “Do you know how exhausting it is to fight a constant uphill battle for your dreams?” She looks at him doubtfully and adds, “You’ve seen movies about people who do, so picture that.”
Genre and pop-culture spoofing movies are at their best when they’re created by those who are fans of stuff that they’re poking fun at. It shows in films such as This is Spinal Tap, where keen observations about the silliness and eccentricities of rock music are what makes the film so special. That film’s pitch-perfect, albeit exaggerated, tone connects with an audience who are themselves fans of the music. The same could be said for this good-natured dive into the world of film geekdom.
The Concessionaires Must Die! isn’t quite up to the comic genius of Spinal Tap — that film’s biting satirical wit sets the bar awfully high. But it aims at a similar target as the aforementioned rock ’n’ roll spoof — people stranded on the cusp of adulthood who resist giving up the trappings of their youth. Fortunately, Concessionaires manages to land quite a few direct hits.
The Concessionaires Must Die! (2017) Directed by America Young. Written by John M. Keating, Sam McCoy. Starring David Blue, Talia Tabin, John M. Keating, Zakareth Ruben, Sarah Sweet, Cosby Siringi, Kelly Eichenholz, and David A. Cooper.
7.5 out of 10