Sully (Lawrence Michael Levine) is in the middle of an existential crisis. Despite his attempts to become a responsible family man, he’s stuck in a spot where he can’t quite embrace the present or future due to an inability to fully let go and move on from the past. Lasering off an old tattoo seems okay, but parting with his favorite amp to make the money to buy a new bed for his family is less than successful.
When his ex-bandmate and friend Mick (Benjamin Ellis Fine) contacts him out of the blue, wanting to get together the day before starting a 30-day prison sentence, Sully reluctantly agrees and promptly gets pulled into the nostalgic extreme as Mick attempts to get a hold of a copy of the one album their old band, Detonator, ever released. Problem is, that album is safely in the care of the band’s ex-promoter, Dutch (Robert Longstreet), and he doesn’t appreciate how their relationship ended all those years ago. Plus, Mick’s reasons for wanting the cassette are not as sentimental as one might initially suspect, complicating the evening that much more.
While those are the broad elements that set up some of the characters and drama, the truth is that Damon Maulucci and Keir Politz’s Detonator is more nuanced than the above might suggest. It’s common for characters such as Sully to walk into such an experience and completely regress into their youthful selves, embracing that former life and finding perhaps what they’ve lost, or at least cementing their appreciation of what they currently have.
And to an extent all that is in here, but the Sully character never becomes that cliché of extreme, regressive behavior. He suffers Mick because he’s loyal, and he suffers Dutch due to similar reasons, along with a sense of responsibility for his past and those in it. He’s working through his own life confusion, sure, but it’s happening quietly as he surveys the new music scene and encounters the personalities that still surround that world. He’s seeing how green the grass actually is.
It’s a balancing act that Levine’s Sully pulls off quite convincingly, protesting at every turn not to get pulled into any more of Mick’s plans for the evening while obviously also maintaining a curiosity that compels him forward. He’s the reluctant friend who acts like there’s no choice here, but he’s quite consistently making the choice to continue on for reasons that aren’t as cut-and-dry as simple loyalty or friendship.
And the film is intriguing in its character study and journey, buoyed by the performances of its leads. I’ve already mentioned Levine’s quiet intensity and subtle development, but Fine’s Mick also plays it more real than just another irresponsible friend thrown in a movie to screw up their straight-laced buddy’s life. Fine’s Mick is pushing the envelope, sure, but he has reasons for every step, and he’s on a short timetable with incarceration right around the corner. His goal isn’t simply to get drunk and get laid before jail, he’s setting some serious wheels in motion.
Longstreet’s Dutch may seem to be the main antagonist here, but even his motivations and actions are more layered. His problems with Sully and Mick come from a place of feeling betrayed and hurt by his ex-friends, and Longstreet balances an air of menace with that under-the-surface pain. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s got a sense of honor that is uniquely his, and you don’t want to cross that lest you reap the consequences.
Thus Detonator is a complex character journey over a day and evening in Philadelphia (though not the Philly cinema fans are usually presented with; Mick and Sully aren’t running the Art Museum steps or obsessing over the Eagles and cheese steaks). It’s punk rock house parties and underground music scenes versus mattress sales and minivans. It’s a trip down one of the many multiverses that exist in the city in any given day.
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