Madcap comedies are nothing new, but only a few reach the right balance of zany yet relatable. See, going all-in on the crazy makes for a movie universe that will put the audience off. On the flipside, being too grounded means the kooky comedy will feel out of place. For a modern example of a film that perfects this, see Izzy Gets The F*ck Across Town. Now comes writer-director Jerry Brewington’s go-for-broke take on Hollywood celebrity social circles, L.A. Willy-Nilly.
Narcissistic, perpetual liar Harry (Steven Johnson) needs to get to LAX by noon sharp so that he can film a major role in a movie starring Daniel Craig. Before he leaves his beloved city for the duration of production, he wants to visit his favorite sights and say goodbye to a few select people. His limo driver Wang-Wang (Jimmy Dinh) is more than happy to oblige.
There is a snag though, as Wang-Wang stole a refrigerator from Earnie The Fence (Marc Livingood). This means, Earnie’s people are chasing the short Asian man, but they are the only ones. Interested parties want to buy the fridge from Wang-Wang. As if that isn’t enough to send the suicidal Harry over the edge, the client and driver pick up a stowaway after one particular stop, Marjuan (Roevely Rancell).
“…he wants to visit his favorite sights and say goodbye to a few select people…his limo driver Wang-Wang is more than happy to oblige.”
Now, the unlikely trio needs to stay alive long enough to give Earnie the refrigerator, get to the airport, and reconnect Marjuan with his family. However, Harry’s lies begin to pile up faster than the bullets, and no one is sure what he is after; possibly including himself.
While there is plenty to enjoy about L.A. Willy-Nilly, there are a few problems as well. At one point, as Wang-Wang is driving down the road, the three are getting to know each other and bonding over their near-death experiences at the hand of three psycho rednecks. As the scene goes on, the camera changes from the back of the limo—where the clients sit—to look at the driver through the window. Once this switch happens, and anytime the scene cuts back to the windshield shot, the audio gets notably quieter. This isn’t a stylistic choice meant to convey atmosphere. Wang-Wang is talking up a storm here, but it is almost impossible to hear.
Another, an arguably more significant flaw is that not all the jokes work. Wang-Wang is short, and to see over the steering wheel, he sits on telephone books. It is not a particularly funny gag nor are the constant references to him as a “midget.” Also not amusing is a sequence involving Harry’s ex-wife. She could be cut out of the movie, and not a lot would change.
Brewington’s script does contain several big laughs. Harry gets Marjuan to help him run his lines and Harry isn’t very good, and the dialogue is entirely on the nose. It is a very clever send-up of these verbose epics that Hollywood churns out every few years. Then there’s the subversion of tropes. Earnie isn’t a menacing, threatening presence like a cartoon mob boss. He remains calm and helps when he can.
“This frantic movement mirrors the rapid-fire dialogue and nonstop plot.”
The directing keeps the pace going from the first scene until the credits roll. L.A. Willy-Nilly balances each story strand, and there are a few, with ease. The audience always understands where these characters are about those people, and that keeps the tension high. The camera roves, pans, zooms, or circles the actors, cars, or buildings in most sequences. This frantic movement mirrors the rapid-fire dialogue and nonstop plot. Therefore, even when the movie missteps, it is never dull.
The acting is also quite good. Steven Johnson brings a charm to Harry, who would otherwise be insufferable. Harry explaining to a cab driver which hookers this particular person he’s looking for will be at is hilarious and Johnson’s deadpan delivery is funny as hell. Dinh’s comedic timing helps sell some of the worse jokes and his chemistry with Johnson is solid. As Marjuan, Roevely Rancell is exceedingly hilarious and bring a lot of heart. Wang-Wang and Marjuan decide they need to find where Harry went. Roevell sells the idea that he cares for the misanthrope very well.
L.A. Willy-Nilly has a few punchlines that fall flat and certain scenes feel like they weren’t finished. However, the acting is fantastic, the directing kinetic and balances the pieces of the story well, and the plot moves so quickly that you are never bored.
L.A. Willy-Nilly (2019) Directed by Jerry Brewington. Written by Jerry Brewington. Starring Steven Johnson, Jimmy Dinh, Roevely Rancell, Monet Johnson Marc Livingood.
6.5 out of 10 Limos