In Cameron Crowe’s teen classic, Say Anything, John Cusack’s heartsick Lloyd Dobbler decides briefly that his life is too dominated by women. So, he attempts to bond with a few guys hanging out behind the mini-mart to try and get some masculine perspective. After a brief chat, he quickly realizes that he’s far better off with his neurotic but fascinating gal-pals than with these low-life morons. “Stomping Grounds” is, quite unashamedly, about those guys.
With the most male-dominated cast this side of “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Dirty Dozen,” “Stomping Grounds” depicts the first day of summer for four high school students who are – to be kind – a long way from the fast track to success. Rodney (Ian Jung) is probably the smartest of the group, but even he can’t manage to take decent care of his cat or avoid physical confrontations with his bullying older brother (Jason Schnuit). Speaking of cats, his pal David’s (Christopher Heitai) main concerns are reflexively combing his hair and eating, in that order. Add pothead Lenny (Pete Stone) and resident goof-ball and would-be hood Steve (Jayson Schaal) and you’ve got your basic coming of age stew as the broke foursome make a day out of the heady task of acquiring enough money to purchase a pizza.
While the fate of their lunch, and Rodney’s cat, hangs in the balance, they seek to overcome such obstacles as summer school, a urine-smelling, cockney (or is it Aussie?) rent-a-cop (Chris Thorton) and a notorious bully (John E. Moore). So little growth or maturation takes place as they undertake this non-hero’s journey, that I swear I heard the ghost of Joseph Campbell weep for the future of the culture. Actually, that’s what I like the most about “Stomping Ground.” For the most part, it hews nicely to the “Seinfeld” creed of “no hugs, no learning.”
Although it owes a little too much to Kevin Smith’s “early, funny movies” and falls prey to aimlessness (much like the characters), writer-director Bret A. Arnold has a knack for pacing and setting up humorous situations. (An early sequence in which David and Rodney attempt to steal a few bucks from his sleeping father’s water bottle is particularly good.). And there are repeated, accurate observations supporting the conclusion that men are, indeed, the simpler, stupider sex.
Like Clerks, the acting is mostly low-grade indie quality. On the other hand, the photography by Geoff Lippert — in eye-filling 16mm black and white — captures the lower-middle class of hopelessness of Southern California’s South Bay with admirable precision.
Unfortunately, frequently lackluster dialogue and a thin story hampers “Stomping Grounds” throughout. Almost as unfortunate, a totally unnecessary narration of the “after that summer, nothing would ever be the same” variety threatens the nicely unsentimental vibe. On the other hand, since the film is dedicated to the memory of a lost loved one and may be somewhat autobiographical, the need to carve some meaning out of low-life hijinks is understandable.