I can’t speak for the rest of the staff, but there’s certainly no established protocol to determine what films I’m going to review in a given week. Gore sends me an enormous box overflowing with tapes and, similar to plucking a name out of a hat, I simply reach in the box each week and pull out a feature and a coupla shorts. That’s not to say I don’t occasionally rig the lottery, so to speak, by putting the tapes featuring sexy box art near the top of the stack, but other than that it’s a completely random process. Which makes it an all the more amazing coincidence that I should pull the mockumentary “White Rod” from the pile on the same week that sees “Shaft” return to the silver screen.
The fictitious character White Rod at the heart of this tape is, of course, a thinly veiled Caucasian parody of John Shaft. Supposedly a cult classic television series after a four year network run and one disastrously aborted feature film, the show’s titular character was a mixture of testosterone fueled martial artist, James Bondian super spy and all around sensitive guy. To quote the show’s co-creator and director, White Rod, portrayed by three different actors,”…kills because he cares.”
Structurally, “White Rod” is solid. Director “Vance VanPuffelen,” a supposed television meteorologist, serves as an amusingly earnest narrator and tour guide through the show’s history, introducing “archival” footage and conducting behind the scenes interviews with the show’s fictitious cast, producer, director and crewmen. Those portraying these folks generally do a convincing job of making the show seem authentic; maybe too convincing, in fact, at least as compared to the “clips” we see from the show itself, which are shot in a fashion that can only be described as amateur home video. Sure, it adds to the cheese factor of the show, but it completely shatters the illusion that “White Rod” was a real show.
Therein lies one of this film’s fatal flaw. Mockumentaries like “Spinal Tap” and parodies like “Airplane!” work because they play it straight; emulating whatever genre they’re parodying right down to the tiniest detail and not pausing to wait for the laughs. “Spinal Tap” could have been real. (And now it is, thanks to the “band’s” upcoming real-life “reunion” tour.) “White Rod,” on the other hand, is too self-congratulatory. It simply tries too hard to be funny — giving actors names like “Jake Thrust” for instance — and isn’t very often. The resulting forced humor, combined with “clips” that look nothing like a real TV show, override the film’s generally convincing and on-the-money behind the scenes material, ultimately giving “White Rod,” well, the shaft.