By Phil Hall | August 27, 2008

As a film reviewer, I get to an awful lot of movies – not to mention a lot of awful movies. When a stinker starts to smell up the screen, it is easy to wonder: What the hell was the filmmaker thinking?

That question is the basis of “No Burgers for Bigfoot,” a wonderfully sly deadpan comedy from Oklahoma filmmaker Jonathan Grant. Wearing five hats here (director, producer, writer, editor and star), Grant pulls off an amazing feat in skewering the pretensions and inanities of no-budget indie filmmaking in a manner that is thoroughly original and completely unpredictable.

“No Burgers for Bigfoot” takes a cinema verite approach to how a very bad movie idea metastasizes into a thoroughly atrocious end product. The key to this calamity is Grant’s unique screen persona: Michael Justice, a low-energy, vaguely sleazy, utterly clueless would-be Kubrick. His notion that he would spend his time creating a short Bigfoot-related horror film that would carry a significant social message is shockingly wrong, yet no one who gets sucked into the project seems to notice the obvious flaws of the project. In fact, one of the film’s many amusing running gags involves the one production-related aspect where everyone is bothered: the idea of calling the movie “Return of the Bigfoot” (people keep asking if it is a sequel, because technically the Bigfoot cannot return if no one saw him leave).

Needless to say, Michael Justice doesn’t bother surrounding himself with people who are concerned about quality filmmaking. His leading lady is a dizzy would-be starlet who is trying to position herself as the next big thing (she displays her Hollywood liberal cred by proclaiming: “I know about global warming – I’m all for it!”). His second leading lady is a self-absorbed Russian whose English is utterly impenetrable. His leading man is a country boy who is more interested in doing card tricks than trying to get into character as a trash-talking urban hood. And his corporate sponsor is satisfied to finance this mess as long as his business – a bovine insemination company – gets product placement.

For Michael Justice, his lack of expertise in making films – let alone dealing with people – constantly trips him up. He has his cast baking in extended outdoor sequences by reminding them the sun is necessary to illuminate the shots, while his attempts to frame an overhead angle while walking on wobbly stilts results in having his jittery actors serve to catch his inevitable tumbles. When he collides with the real world, he is either shockingly tactless (he complains that a cemetery scene is being disrupted by a mourner who lacks the courtesy to temporarily position herself at another headstone) or swatted like a pest (at one point he is hauled off in handcuffs by a police officer with no interest in indie films).

Of course, the Bigfoot film eventually gets made and the result (complete with an out-of-left-field country music number!) has to be seen to be believed.

Indeed, all of “No Burgers for Bigfoot” has to be seen to believed – it is so original and delightful that it locks the viewer’s attention from start to finish. Grant keeps the film at a brisk, smooth, consistent level. He wisely avoids the temptation to get zany or sarcastic (a key failing of too many indie comedies), and instead he maintains a deceptively leisurely pacing that slowly evolves into wildly bizarre situations.

And the true beauty of “No Burgers for Bigfoot” is that none of the characters becomes wise to what is going down around them. This is especially brilliant in the film’s very last scene, when Michael Justice explains what transpires when the film is entered in its first festival. I will not spoil that closing joke, but I will confess that I never saw it coming and I laughed loud and hard when it hit. And I found myself saying: For once, there is an indie comedy that is genuinely funny!

“No Burgers for Bigfoot” is a major winner and Jonathan Grant is clearly a talent who deserves to be in the spotlight.

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