Remember the glory days of independent cinema (way, way back in the ancient mists of the mid-90’s), when every other indie flick seemed to focus on a shiftless group of post-college guys – twentysomething losers sitting around drinking beer and discussing the finer points of obscure “Gilligan’s Island” episodes? Back when a guy like Kevin Smith could launch a career based on a couple of goobers hanging out in a convenience story debating “Star Wars” minutiæ? Okay, maybe it wasn’t exactly a Golden Age, but the slacker-doofus genre did produce its share of minor masterpieces, including “Kicking and Screaming” and “Swingers,” scattered along the sea of dreck like “Reality Bites.”
With “Chillicothe,” writer/director Todd Edwards doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but he has produced a sharp and witty take on the near-defunct Gen-X comedy. Edwards himself stars as Wade Hinkle, one of six friends who form the core of “Chillicothe.” They’re all feeling their way through their post-college years, grasping at romance, careers and ever more obscure pop culture references. Kevin (Brad Knull) is particularly desperate to hook up with any woman, as soon as possible, while Wade’s brother Shane (Cory Edwards) would rather just stay home and watch “Babylon 5.” Wade has put his painting ambitions on hold, and takes occasional jobs in video production with Kevin. Once Kevin manages to land the woman of his dreams (she makes him shave his goatee before she’ll go out with him) and gets married, he is forced into the allegedly more stable world of telemarketing. (Kevin’s co-worker is another recognizable Gen-X archetype – the guy who quotes Monty Python’s “nudge nudge” sketch within five minutes of meeting you.) Slowly, Wade begins to emerge from his catatonic state and move towards realizing his creative goals.
None of this is uncharted territory, but the script is tighter, smarter and funnier than most, even if the acting isn’t always up to its level. The comedy emerges from sly observations, such as the fact that Wade will only sell CDs he knows he’ll buy back someday. “Chillicothe” is an impressive technical achievement for a low-budget feature as well, utilizing literally hundreds of locations, some of them only appearing for seconds onscreen. The montages are crisply edited and move the picture along beautifully. If you never had much use for this kind of movie, it’s unlikely that “Chillicothe” will change your mind. But for those of us who can relate to the uncertainty of post-collegiate life (does it ever end?) – not to mention the obsessive amassing of useless pop culture trivia – it’s a refreshing blast from the past.