In 2008 an oddball curio called “American Punks” showed up on DVD. Turns out this micro-budget thing was originally called “Generation X-tinct,” with an original date (1997) pointing to its inspiration. Even at a quick glance, it’s no mystery this was a causal ripoff of “Pulp Fiction,” with violent wackos and quick grabs at 70s film cliches. In this regard alone, the film is an appalling failure, less than you’d expect from a high school screenwriting class.
But interestingly enough, the writer/director – Michele Pacitto – boiled his film down to irreverence. During filming, he veered his script into an outright campfest, with a raving drunk actor named Mike Passion playing the kind of wiseass that a Quaker meeting would be happy to pummel. With an ultra-ironic character on his hands – we delight in every moment of his idiocy – Pacitto strings his gags into farce galore, always serving up accidental laughter from the bad acting. Whether Pacitto knew what he was doing or not is a philosophical issue beyond our reach. Vet critic J. Hoberman tackled the topic in his fine essay “Bad Movies,” in which he wraps with a final note about the crapography of Oscar Micheaux: if the early African American filmmaker knew what he was doing – in the end, that he was subverting convention – he may very well have been a genius. Suffice it so say that “American Punks,” in its filmmaker’s hands, sure plays like a knowing endeavor – hence, good enough to be a late-night treat in our tradition-conscious world of movies.
Punk-spirited Pacitto has quit directing to write and produce a new pastiche, “Alice in Wasteland.” There’s no mystery here: with a wronged babe grabbing a gun for vengeance, we have another Tarantino rip from Pacitto. Alas, this one cannot subvert its inspiration.
Alice (Roxane Sondrup) gets double-crossed during a robbery and rises after a year-long coma. Upon waking, she has to battle it out with a drug-lord looking as if he’s been transported from “Fantasy Island.” A few men come along in the tale, but Pacitto and his directors, Lasse Jarvi and Pete Schuermann, pull in as many young women as they can. A crooked cop is played by Michelle Beisner, an ex-NFL cheerleader who performs like a bitchy sorority chick out to get every dude who ever copped a feel. Other eye candy comes in short performances, like Brianne O’Malley’s Nikki (who really needs more screen time), and a leggy dutch girl in high boots. Hence, we have a flick full of bras and panties.
But the script’s humorous tone appears alien to the filmmakers. Gags come as early as Scene One, in which Beisner’s Jill serves a humiliating strip search. But co-directors Jarvi and Schuermann turn things serious when they stumble upon joke. The uneven tone makes us feel embarrassed for attempting to laugh. Much of the weight is on Sondrup’s shoulders, so it’s unfair to expect pure execution from an amateurish performer. This is, after all, the kind of film in which a cop uses a discount flashlight from WalMart.
But many resources remain untapped. With bra after bra revealed, it’s dumbfounding why this flick can’t serve up any skin at all. A certain kind of viewer will stop his late-night cable surfing when coming across this kind of thing. And we know what he expects in his random discovery. Word has it that a gang of troops overseas will receive copies of “Alice,” but they may want to exchange their “PG-13” versions for the real thing.
This indicates another reason why Pacitto should have fired Jarvi and Schuermann after day one and jumped in as helmer. He may have felt through the flaws and squeezed out what this flick would need to make it the guilty-pleasure send-up it wants to be.