“Southlander” is a small, no-budget, seemingly unsophisticated film that creates a minor energy miracle by fueling its running time on pure raffish charm. This digital video feature looks like a home movie thanks to some of the cheesiest cinematography employed in a professional production, and the acting is often (to use an overburdened aviary analogy) for the birds. Yet the film is so good-natured and easy-to-please that finding fault with its flaws can only make a critic seem like an a*s.
Chance (an appealing Rory Cochrane) is a would-be Los Angeles musician who finds a chance at success in the city’s weekly Southlander classified advertising newspaper. He buys an ultra-rare 1969 Moletron synthesizer being sold for $200 by a self-proclaimed fat lady (who parts for it just for $100 plus some special services which, mercifully, occur off-camera). Chance uses the synthesizer to score a much-desired gig with a Eurotrash pop act fronted by a lovely British singer (Beth Orton in her film debut, and she is a natural on-camera).
However, the synthesizer is soon stolen and Chance is joined by his sidekick-buddy Ross (Ross Harris, who co-wrote the film) in searching the Southlander classified for the miscreants who purloined his prized instrument. The search brings them through the weirder corners of Los Angeles, which unleashes a surprise stream of cameo appearances including Beck, Ione Skye, Hank Williams III (accompanied by a robot dinosaur) and the ultimate in 1970s chic: Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (the one and only Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington of “Welcome Back Kotter” fame).
“Southlander” never takes itself seriously. Anyone looking for social commentary on the music scene or a genuine satire of Los Angeles culture should find another movie. This film is not a statement but a diversion, and a wonderfully relaxing diversion at that. Director Steven Hanft pulls off a cool treat with this leisurely, engaging lark that rolls along in a laid-back funky groove that slowly but surely grabs the audience in a gentle embrace and doesn’t let go. And, damn it, only the stupid or the dead cannot succumb to its genuine sense of fun and the slacker style which, over the unfolding of its story, makes perfect sense of the cheapo visual style and often overplayed acting.
“Southlander” should not be watched as a solitary viewing experience. Bring along a keg or two and a dozen good friends. Films like this deserve to be shared.