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Never Say Macbeth
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by David Cornelius

"Foul is fair and this movie's pretty darn good."
4 stars

If you’ve ever spent a decent amount of time with any theater crowd, you’ll know that aside from their generally being delightfully kooky, they’re also ridiculously superstitious. “Break a leg,” ghost lights, box seats left eternally unsold so the house ghosts don’t have to sit on someone’s lap…

One of the biggies is the curse of Macbeth - namely, you never, ever, ever utter the title of “the Scottish Play,” lest you be doomed to bad luck. Unless, of course, you turn around three times and spit, thus erasing the curse. Now, never mind the fact that as an actor in the play, you’re bound to say the name “Macbeth” a cool seventy times minimum, but that doesn’t count, because you’re on stage and in character. Or something. Never said these things made sense.

Anyway. All of this brings me to “Never Say Macbeth,” a no-budget indie production that cleverly uses the Macbeth curse as a launching point for a sharp ghost comedy. It’s a loving part-parody, part-celebration of theater culture that pumps enough charm into the proceedings that we don’t really mind the story’s weaker, more conventional points.

Screenwriter Joe Tyler Gold stars as Danny, a mild mannered science teacher from Toledo who journeys to L.A. to find his ex-girlfriend Ruth (Ilana Kira), who skipped town in hopes of hitting the big time before she turns thirty. By the purest of dumb luck (namely, the crazed ramblings of astrology-obsessed director Jason, played by Alexander Enberg), Danny winds up cast as Witch #1 in a production of “Macbeth” - which stars Ruth as the Lady herself. Will Danny manage to reconnect with his former flame? Frankly, the minute Ruth starts making eyes at hotshot star Scott (Mark Deklin) while friendly co-star Tamara (Tania Getty) agrees to help Danny win back his ex, we know exactly how this romantic comedy is going to play out.

But it doesn’t really matter, because the leads are very charming - and even if Gold’s stammering cluelessness is a little too forced at times, it’s also quite lovable. Besides, the romance is secondary to the ghost story, kicked off when Danny says that one word (“begins with an M, ends with an Acbeth”) that summons the spirits of the players who died when the theater burned down fifty years ago, after a previous “Macbeth” performance was equally cursed. Ghosts appear in character, but not merely from Shakespeare’s play; characters from “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Importance of Being Earnest” also show up, always at the wrong time.

The script tosses everything at us, ghost-wise: visions, possessions, haunting, poltergeistery, etc. The shoestring visual effects are consistently nifty; they may not always be remotely believable, but they’re fun, and here, that’s worth something. And in a movie made by and for the acting community (the cast and crew are filled with theater veterans, and the majority of the film was shot at a local L.A. theater, making this a personal project for many involved), it’s worth noting that this is never a movie about the effects. Indeed, the best effects are the non-effects whipped up by the actors themselves, like the bit where Ruth is possessed by the ghost of the drunken Porter, or when the singing Pirate King appears, visible only to Danny.

Perhaps this personal touch should be no surprise, as “Never Say Macbeth” is a story all about character. Efforts to fill the sidelines with an assortment of quirky roles feels strained at first, but then the script settles in with these goofballs as people. Even the “Star Wars”-obsessed stage manager who changed her name to make it rhyme with “Jedi” and the doltish actor who’s making his own 12-step program (“step three: eliminate anyone in your way”) stop being caricatures surprisingly quickly, as we settle into their oddities and find the regular (if nutty) people underneath.

The film isn’t always particularly polished, even for an indie with this low a budget. Some of the dialogue lands with a thud, either by awkward writing or iffy delivery, while director C.J. Prouty seems uncomfortable with the camera in some of the early, crowded scenes. And yet these problems also fade away once the movie finds its footing, about twenty or thirty minutes in - it quickly realizes it’s a farce, and the screwball pacing picks up nicely and covers up any later flaws. And, of course, even once the ghost comedy reaches a fever pitch, we’re still focusing on the personal side of things, which helps ground the production.

So stick with “Never Say Macbeth” and be rewarded with a sweet little comedy that delivers plenty of smiles and the occasional huge laugh. Its warm, personal touch carries it through.

Now, if you please, turn around three times and spit.

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originally posted: 07/07/07 12:16:26
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User Comments

8/30/07 Brent Nowak Great Cinematography, the story is original but the dialog dragged and the acting is so, so 3 stars
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  10-Jul-2007 (NR)
  DVD: 26-Aug-2008



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