Comedic dramas (the term ‘dramedy’ is noxious) have a fine line to walk. If things get too silly, then the dramatic turns will not ring true; if things are too heavy, the comedy aspect will feel forced and awkward. There are several movies, studio and independent releases alike, that leaned too hard one way or the other, and those titles floundered. So when a film is released that hits the exact right tone, that serves both the comedy and drama with equal success, it is a reason to celebrate. Captain Black, Jeffrey S.S. Johnson’s feature-length debut, is a movie to celebrate.
Mike (Jeffrey S.S. Johnson) is the manager of a chintzy chain restaurant, akin to Applebee’s or O’Charley’s. He is content enough with his life, hangs out with his staff, but is meandering along, rather than flourishing. One day, after closing for the night, he comes across a bag of comics left by Junior (Joaquin Camilo), a waiter. The comics follow the adventures of the superhero Captain Black, as he fights for noble truth against villainy. The more he reads, the more inspired and confident he becomes. For the restaurant’s annual Halloween celebration, he dresses up as Captain Black. At the party, he meets a woman dressed up as Captain Black’s love interest, Kitt Vixxen (Georgia Norman). They get on quite well with each other and wind up having a one night stand. The lady dressed as Kitt leaves before Mike gets a name, but he runs into her again at the restaurant. After that, he discovers she is pregnant and… only 17!
“…he discovers she is pregnant and… only 17!”
The fallout from those last two revelations is when the movie takes a turn for the dramatic. Up until then, Captain Black is somewhat laidback and genial, with the put-upon but understanding Mike and his turn into a hardcore geek being very amusing. Due to the earnestness of the first half, the audience’s investment towards Mike isn’t fully realized until the drama raises the stakes. Johnson’s script is clever, filled with great jokes, but also revolves around fully formed characters and real heart. Mike’s closest confidant, Kris (Linara Washington), helps cover for him when he gets queasy, they have long conversations about each other’s lives, and their friendship is realistic. Heck, even the comic store clerk is enthusiastic and amiable.
Jeffrey Johnson pulls triple duty, as he is the writer, director, and star. As Mike, he excels and believably sells the good-natured quality of the character. Once tougher situations rear their head, he transitions nicely and provides real weight to the turmoil. Georgia Norman has a tricky role, as she needs to come across as vulnerable enough to be empathized with and so self-assured that the hookup doesn’t seem coercive when it initially happens. She is exceptional and holds her own in a discussion of options available to everyone. Washington is first-rate as Mike’s best friend; she is caring and sweet but doesn’t hold back when she feels he needs to be put in his place.
“…the movie showcasing some brilliant visual gags and a strong color palette.”
As a director, Johnson is equally good, with the movie showcasing some brilliant visual gags and a strong color palette. The colors, in the beginning, are intense and pop off the screen. As the movie progresses, things get more muted. This is a subtle and creative way to showcase the emotional state of our main character. The highlight though is a dream sequence where Mike is Captain Black, the lady from the party is Kitt Vixxen, and they ride a motorcycle through an intentionally obvious rear projected highway. The music, the editing, and superhero tropes being parodied during this section come together in a lively manner.
Captain Black starts off as a delightful slice of life comedy and evolves into an engaging drama. Expertly acted, beautifully lensed, and very entertaining.
Captain Black (2018) Directed by Jeffrey S.S. Johnson. Written by Jeffrey S.S. Johnson. Starring Jeffrey S.S. Johnson, Georgia Norman, Linara Washington, Joaquin Camilo.