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By Kenny Herzog | December 4, 2005

At the risk of sounding needlessly cruel, “Love and Plutonium” was an excruciating experience, akin to watching one of your embarrassing adolescent attempts at early filmmaking years later––except made by actual adults in 2005.

My particular approach when critiquing shoestring-financed, independently made films is twofold: gauge the creative spirit and weigh that against the built-in budgetary issues and cast inexperience that will no doubt hamper its overall aesthetic and rhythm; and try to imagine the script on paper to decipher if there’s good foundational material that simply needs to be molded in more capable hands. I like to think of the latter the way a musician views a song: if it sounds as good stripped down to its acoustic essentials, then something substantial is there.

Point being, I am empathetic to the plight of the empty-pocketed would-be auteur, but sometimes, you have to just call a spade a spade. You will cringe at every moment you’re intended to laugh; scenes intended to be cute or cunning are actually corny and hackneyed; and jokes––if you can call them that––come off like leftover Zucker brothers lines delivered by former extras from “Saved by the Bell.”

The premise of “Plutonium” is intended to have a good-natured, postmodern bent, playing off comic-book conventions by having real-life villains (Dr. Medlo, played by Nate Topie, and his evil henchman Hank, played by Jeff Priskorn) and superheroes (Little Liberty, played by Jacquie Floyd, and Justice Kitten, played by Maggie Payton) exist nonchalantly in a town called Suburbiaville. Medlo snatches some plutonium that will help he and Hank take over the world. However, he leaves his wallet behind, and a receptionist named Holly (Meghan Vigeant) brings to it his home. They fall in love, he forgets about world domination, and a frustrated Hank conspires with Liberty and Kitten to break them up so they’re not suddenly out of a job (Liberty has already taken to serving concessions at the movie theater).

Now, bad acting is one thing, but it’s another to induce shudders of sympathy and pity every time you utter a line or commit to an overly broad gesture that’s supposed to remind us your character is a kitten, despite no feline traits (i.e. Payton and her random fits of hissing). Or to attempt a crying scene but instead have the audience wondering whether you’re supposed to be mentally retarded (courtesy of another superhero named Loverboy).

Then there’s the simple fact of attention to detail, the easiest thing any film, particularly one that doesn’t have the distractions of expensive sets, prissy stars and studio interference, can keep in check. So when you have two pseudo-ESPN commentators observing the movie’s action from a booth and sporadically offering their analysis (don’t ask), yet, for example, one tells the other––to his surprise––how he saw Liberty at the concession stand the other night, when they had just watched her explain as much minutes earlier, that’s just pure laziness. Equally lazy is plotting a scene where Liberty is in disguise, yet doesn’t remove her Statue of Liberty crown, but of course, no one recognizes her. Whether that’s a knowing wink-wink to the innocent days of suspension-of-belief superhero movies or just plain oversight is anyone’s guess, since there’s no evidence that they’ve thought things through to that extent.

And while the overall concept is clever enough, it’s too bad everything is played like some bad Mel Brooks movie instead of taking a slyer satirical approach.

With a film like “Plutonium,” it’s just unclear how much coddling and benefit of the doubt it’s supposed to receive by virtue of its independent, made-for-the-love-of-making movies status. There’s simply too many talented people writing, directing and producing too many interesting works that don’t get any notice to grant charity kudos to something that seems to believe it can coast on being complimented for its “wackiness” or “how much fun the cast seems to be having.” I was bored and uncomfortable, and frankly, am 100 percent positive my friends and I made better, funnier and more creative adolescent videos that I suddenly find myself inspired to revisit.

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