“Carts” is not a typical one-day-in-the-life-of-a-crappy-job movie.
There’s Roberto (Douglas Spain), the hardest working employee of the big box value chain Cost Low, pushing carts back to where they belong, and loading purchases into the trunks of cars belonging to annoying customers. He hates his job, hates the customers, but doesn’t seem bothered by it. Mainly because he doesn’t have a choice.
Steve (Albert Stroth), the Judd Nelson of the group of employees while in front of the boss, checks out women in the parking lot with Angie (Angelina Spicer), a black lesbian who doesn’t mind them unshaved below.
Ed (Bradford Anderson) is the stereotypical, introverted nerd, except when speaking of sci-fi TV shows that sound the same.
Brad (Brendan Brandt) is the stoner you’d expect to find among this crowd. He smokes, he sleeps, he drools, he’s Brad.
And Mike (Paul H. Kim) is the new guy, eager to push carts. Apparently it’s his kind of job.
But this is not a job any of them can leave. The parking lot of Cost Low is where they have to do time. This is purgatory. The purgatory.
In a past life, Roberto was a successful Congressman who took bribes; Steve was a former rock star who didn’t know that the girl he was with was underage; Ed was an actor who killed his wife in the alleyway of an Italian restaurant; Brad was a televangelist who embezzled money from old people; and Angie was a Canadian hockey player who was also the head of a white supremacy group.
If they fully understand what they did wrong and come to terms with the people they are now, Heaven awaits. But not right away, because as Roberto notes, he’s been at the job for six years.
This is a good start in feature films for writer/director Chris Cashman, previously known for the Star Wars parody short, “Intergalactic Idol.” In the opening shot, he cleverly comments on the cart-pushers, with one Cost Low employee pushing an insane number of carts at once. Plus, he has Ted Lange. Yes, that Ted Lange from “The Love Boat.”
As Sam, the store security guard who drives around in an impressive-looking golf cart and vows to find whomever keeps dropping cigarette butts, Lange is gifted with the one character who has the most insight about this world. He tells Roberto to just keep at his job of managing the parking lot ahead of a visit by the CEO of Cost Low, even through the frustrations. When Roberto is offered a job as assistant manager by the boss, Al (Weston Blakesley, who looks like a runner-up in a Gerald Ford lookalike contest), Sam tells him simply to go for what he wants. If he wants the job, then he should take it.
Lange plays Sam’s frustrations and insights so smoothly, that every time there’s another customer to watch, we look forward to seeing him again and hope he’ll appear soon, just like Lupe (Isabel Cueva) who makes a business with her uncle of delivering lost shopping carts, and whom Cashman uses as a possible love interest for Roberto, a brief attraction which ends unexpectedly and feels right.
And then there are the customers, and crazy woman: Two overly played gay men who idolize their dog, two men in turbans who are fond of their porn which they demand back from Angie, a Chinese woman who can’t decide which side a package should be on in her trunk, a Jew and a Christian (Ed’s mother, most embarrassing to watch, but that’s Cashman’s point, why Ed needs calm, happy drugs) arguing over a shopping cart only to be cut off by a Buddhist, and a dirty, stringy-haired woman on a bicycle who fakes being hit by cars and shouts at the employees that they’re in hell, “big box hell,” as she says later. These people are stretched out far beyond any welcome that should be afforded them, but they’re what I imagine is a learning experience for Cashman. Even though all of them are played far too broadly, there’s something in each of them worth watching, even the crazy woman because of how she looks. Cashman also shows jokes after telling them, occasionally bothersome, such as when Roberto says that Al would sell his own son if his wife would let him. Sometimes words are enough.
Cashman definitely has something here though. Where other films have characters played to overly broad comedic effect, and nothing else, Cashman at least has people in his parking-lot creations. No matter their quirks, they’re still people. With “Carts” as a solid base, there’s no doubt that Cashman will build up to films of stronger humor, hopefully with the same type of good-natured characters.
And it’s hard to resist a film that has Martin Klebba, the pirate Marty from the “Pirates of the Carribean” trilogy, as Joe, the next hapless victim to be sucked into Cost Low as an employee. The look on his face as he walks with Al says it all. But at least he’ll have Sam to talk to.