By Matthew Sorrento | January 12, 2008

Of all the problems underground filmmakers face, we rarely fault their lack of energy. We can count on them sweating out whatever issues appear in front of the lens, whether the energy of those involved saves the film or not. But what can we do with a film that doesn’t trust its own script? One that continues an intrusive voice-over throughout, and is therefore afraid to let its action tell a story?

In “Diamond Zero,” a black comedy masking itself as a horror film (by screening at events like last year’s Terror Film Festival), co-writers David Gaz and Kevin Poore had kooky inspiration that they regretfully drowned in a flawed narrative device.

The film concerns black-marketeers who have devised a method of using human remains as raw matter for diamonds. When they hit on the idea to nab corpses of the famous and sell the resulting products as one-of-a-kind editions (Walt Disney makes for an especially nice cut, clarity, and color), things take off. But this group (including Bronson Pinchot, obviously hurting for work) is a bumbling bunch, and when they run out of bodies, infighting makes up much of the plot development. When the action scenes come, they are shot for comic effect, though forced zaniness leaves these moments tone-deaf.

In an opening cross-cut sequence, where diamond producers and sellers discuss their product to different buyers, the film concisely establishes its premise in dialogue. If onscreen action proves effective here, then why should the filmmakers hand over 90% of their storytelling to a voice-over? The screenwriters try to justify the narration by stuffing it with jokes that misfire at every shot. At one point the narrator asks himself, “who is the biggest idiot in the story anyway?” Such questions really shouldn’t be posed in a venture like this one.

At times the narrator’s down-home tone resembles the voice of the original “Dukes of Hazzard.” But even that goofy show knew to use voice-over sparingly, at those trademark “General Lee” cliffhangers. “Diamond Zero’s” narrator needs to take a fatal leap over a cliff, and the whole project should follow.

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