From its conceit to its style, dialogue, and meta-ness, The Mentor plays out like the love child of Cecil B. Demented and Dot The I. Writer-director Moez Solis’ comedic thriller begins with a voice-over from Nilah (Brandi Nicole Payne), talking about how she’s destined to make movies. And that it might have been fate that she ran into her idol, acclaimed indie filmmaker Claire Adams (Liz Sklar). Even more so, when Nilah saves her from getting run over by a car.
As a way of saying thank you, Claire offers to mentor Nilah and even looks over her screenplay. Claire does not hold back, but Nilah seems receptive to the criticism. However, their good fortune wanes as they are kidnapped upon leaving the library. The kidnappers are hopeful filmmakers and need money to finish their already-in-production film. They all wear avian masks to disguise their faces. There is the ringleader Mr. Owl (Mike Bash); Mr. Raven (Michael James Kelly) is a bit aggressive; the eccentric Mrs. Hawk (Julie Lockfield); Mr. Emu (Santiago Rosas) has a lot of empathy for the victims; and finally, there’s the romantic Mr. Pigeon (Corey Jackson).
A wrench is thrown into their demands when it turns out that Claire is broke. Her films, despite the critical acclaim and excellent reviews, are not popular with mainstream audiences. So, now to save Nilah and her life, Claire must convince her mom (Mary Ann Rodgers), an actress who is always on, to give her the film. Can Nilah and Claire convince Mr. Emu to help them escape? Can Mr. Owl keep Mr. Raven in check long enough to prevent unnecessary harm coming to all involved? Who did poison Mr. Pigeon, and why?
“The kidnappers are hopeful filmmakers and need money to finish their already-in-production film.”
The Mentor is quite ambitious, but it falls flat on its face, as it never commits to one style whole-heartedly enough to work. The masked kidnappers spout off some of the most pretentious and grandiose ideas of what being a “true” filmmaker means. They constantly bicker over whether to use the funds, once received, to fix the problematic sound design versus enhancing the color correction and visual effects; as film is a visual medium, Mrs. Hawk continually espouses. Mr. Emu attempts to explain to other filmmakers what post-production is, before being roundly reminded that everyone there knows what it is already. There is a lot of talk about being “Herzogian” and how genre films are the death kiss of artistic integrity.
Mind you, all of this is meant to be humorous. But, it is more grating than anything else. Solis presents a dangerous situation with real stakes and dangers – Mr. Pigeon goes to the hospital due to the aforementioned poisoning – but populates such grounded scenarios with characters whose extreme views of artist integrity, and true filmmaking intent (screenwriters versus directors) are so ridiculous that the two elements stand as polar opposites.
This means that the experience of watching The Mentor is one of tonal confusion and awkward feelings, as the viewer is never sure whether to laugh or to be anxious for the characters and their predicament. Of course, it is possible to balance comedy and extreme circumstances, but both would need to be on an equal plane in terms of presentation (Knives Out, anyone?). At one point, the kidnappers slice off a part of Nilah’s ear. The fraught tension and emotionality of that moment are instantly sucked out the moment they start talking about suffering for art.
"…plays out like the love child of Cecil B. Demented and Dot The I."