Lucien Spelman had a unique upbringing, traveling around at a young age playing classical guitar with his father. Despite being a virtuoso by age 10, Spelman faced a lot of abuse from other children his age, usually due to his satin, ruffled shirts with the puffy sleeves. Now, at age 42, Spelman reflects back on his youth while revealing that years of abuse and ridicule have resulted in Spelman training for a MMA fight.
Unfortunately, Spelman’s “trainer,” Issac Benjamin (Lee Knight), is anything but qualified or talented at the job, putting Spelman through a number of unorthodox training methods. Most notably, for training for MMA, IB doesn’t believe that Spelman should waste his punches in training, thus Spelman does not get all that ready for battle. But, you know, sometimes he runs laps… sort of. And did I mention the fight promoter who arranged the match, Donegal Cork (Michael Johnson), doubles as a reptile breeder and set up the fight because he thinks Spelman is the type of guy who could’ve saved Jesus Christ from crucifixion? This is not going to end well for Spelman.
Whatever Happened To That What Kid? is a mockumentary where the main character, Lucien Spelman, is in on the joke, as he’s also the co-writer and director. Essentially, consider this film as a heightened reality of an absurd alternate version of how Spelman actually turned out. Realizing his life was unique, and he got punished by his peers for it, Spelman wanted to find an interesting way to comment on that while coming up with an equally unique answer to the question that the title poses.
And it’s a great idea in theory, but in execution here it falls short in a number of ways. Mainly, the film is far too long; roughly twice as long as it needs to be. Since the cards are set out early on that Spelman is in for a sad experience come fight time, we’re really just waiting for him to get there. In the meantime, there’s just a lot of time with Spelman and Lee Knight as Issac Benjamin whereupon the latter does his best to carry the film’s comedy. In small doses, it works; Spelman is the straight man and foil, and Knight is the absurd trainer… but it just wears out its welcome.
Also, since we know early on that there’s no way Spelman will actually be prepared for the fight due to the useless nature of his training, we already know the joke before we see it. So, again, it’s a lot of time waiting for something we know that is coming. And since the film doesn’t really ever throw us a curve ball, when we get what we’ve been expecting, it’s even more underwhelming.
I get what the film was going for, and I usually enjoy dry humor juxtaposed with absurdity. I honestly feel there is a strong, tight 10-15 minute short film in here, but the entire project is too bloated as is. Still, I respect the motivation behind the film, and the filmmakers also seem to have a respect for what they’re doing, for example when they give a nod to a famous Spinal Tap moment near the end (that unfortunately falls flat, as it lacks the energy of that film). Overall, though, the film lumbers along at a lengthy pace to an anti-climactic ending. Now that I know what happened to the weird kid, I feel bad, because he could’ve done better.
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