In filmmaker Yangzom Brauen’s Who Killed Johnny, Melanie (Melanie Winiger) and Max (Max Loong) are brainstorming the plot for their latest project. They’ve got Carlos Leal attached to star alongside Melanie, with Max directing… and that’s about it. As they recline on the couches in Melanie’s house, they talk out different ideas, while Melanie’s eccentric neighbor Jambo (Ernest Hausmann), and his girlfriend Gudrun (Jordan Carver), swim in Melanie’s pool. Interrupting their brainstorming session, however, is the hit-and-run car accident outside Melanie’s house, which seems to have left an interesting victim: Johnny Depp (Ronnie Rodriguez, whose presence reminded me of his turn in Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie).
As the film states in the opening, it’s “Based on real people in a surreal world.” Which means, as far as the filmmaking and brainstorming sessions go, more realistic than one might initially suspect. Do people lounge around all day throwing silly film ideas back and forth? Yes, yes they do. Overall, the film laces its absurdity with a significant, almost sobering, level of truth.
However, I don’t know who this movie was made for? If you’re a filmmaker or writer in Hollywood, while there are aspects to this that you’ll relate to, why would you want to watch a movie about them? If you’re interested in the behinds-the-scenes of filmmaking, you definitely get a view that is more realistic than it is surreal, but also, particularly in the final half hour where the scene the filmmakers were brainstorming about is finally filmed, that view is also painfully cliché. We’ve seen it all before in other, better, meta-films about filmmaking (Living in Oblivion immediately comes to mind, as does Bowfinger).
So what truly makes it unique? The whole Johnny Depp angle seems like it would be the hook, but in comparison to the other elements, I don’t even know if it takes up a third of the film (and doesn’t even show up until almost forty minutes in). So, again, what’s the draw here?
Okay, I’ll admit that was harsh. The truth is, I think there are elements of this film that could actually be edited together to make a pretty interesting one. The idea of two writers brainstorming, and seeing examples of their ideas, is fun… just not for almost forty minutes. Likewise the final sequence of filming, just way too much of it.
To me, the film doesn’t really get interesting until it’s halfway over, when the title of the film starts to come into play. Finally the film is about more than just two people brainstorming in a livingroom. The absurdist elements work better when it feels like a plot is moving forward. It’s just the meta-filmmaking bookends of the film that trip it up.
I mean, if the opening ideas became fifteen instead of forty minutes, and the end sequence likewise, sure you’ve got a film likely under sixty minutes (which I also understand is a problem, especially for distribution or screening at a festival), but it’d be more entertaining. Things wouldn’t have a chance to become tiresome and repetitious, the quality elements would stand out more.
Which is my roundabout way of saying that I think there is a good, entertaining film in there. I think the marble needs a bit more chiseling, though. As it currently stands, Who Killed Johnny is a very good-looking film, with actors who obviously know what they’re doing, tasked with bringing to life an almost non-story. Sure, there are ideas, some of them intriguing, but very little else.
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