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68 Kill
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by Jay Seaver

"Bad taste, but mostly the good kind."
4 stars

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 19: "68 Kill" is an impressively tacky bit of trailer-trash pulp, which is in no way meant as an insult - Trent Haaga's latest is fast-paced, funny, and impressively violent, but also never boring and frequently inventive. It’s a bloody, high-spirited caper whose filmmakers sometimes don’t know the line between enjoyable anarchy and unpleasant excess, but it’s at least made with an energy level that keeps the fun stuff from being retroactively spoiled.

Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler) and LIza (AnnaLynne McCord) seem like a bit of a mismatch, with Liza far too good-looking for a gangly guy who pumps septic tanks for a living, but since she’s a call girl and the living embodiment of the idea that all the hot ones are crazy, she’s probably burned more bridges than just the strip club. One of her johns (David Maldonado) has made the mistake of letting slip that he’s got sixty-eight grand in his safe, and she sells Chip on stealing it, saying no-one will get hurt. Of course, not only do people get hurt, but a girl winds up in Chip’s trunk, though Liza says she can solve that problem by selling Violet to LIza’s creepy brother Dwayne (Sam Eidson). It is, on every level, more than the generally-well-meaning Chip signed up for.

Chip being dumb but generally decent is the fuel that drives the movie, and it’s the sort of thing that isn’t as easy as it looks. He’s got to be dumb and prone to bringing trouble upon himself, capable enough to get out of some of it, goofy enough for a laugh, and just barely serious enough to believe that a couple of women who seem like they’d have better options would generally choose him. The last is the one that tends to raise the most eyebrows; Gubler gives an energetic and funny performance - he knows his physical comedy and how get a laugh out of sincere horror - but the amount Chip gets laid what is basically a day and a half seems to land things a little more squarely in the male fantasy area than even a film this happily excessive can sell.

That gleeful bad taste is best delivered by Annalynne McCord; it would be one thing if Liza was just an aggressive bimbo, but once she’s established that broad performance, she handles each new way in which Liza is genuinely terrible with one part deadpan willingness to plow through and one part incredulity that Chip is actually going to have a problem with this. She’s playing an over-the-top, ridiculous role, but she always seems to have a good sense of what Liza cares about and how that balances against the massive amount that she does not. Alisha Boe isn’t quite given that sort of clarity, perhaps in part because Violet is given more straightforward exposition about who she is that might not seem to fit with what she does, but Boe is still one of the film’s great treats, grabbing control of a scene the same way Violet quickly has Chip working with her, by being forceful but winning. Violent and Chip both get thrown in over their head, but Boe convinces us that Violet has what it takes to handle the situation with style while Gubler is entertaining with frustration.

Haaga spends a lot of the start of the movie one-upping himself and moving fast, setting up each piece of black comedy and then jumping to the next in a good rhythm, chaining gags together in such a way that the audience is laughing at a stunned reaction before the less-funny aspects really sink in. He’s got a good enough handle on how Chip, Liza, and Violet bounce off each other that this impromptu triangle actually means something to the audience, even if it might not should he let up for a moment or two.

When things do stop and start after a while, that’s when things start to potentially lose the plot. It’s not just that Haaga has to regain momentum; he introduces a new subplot, and a clutch of new characters, and there’s not a whole lot that’s funny about either. It’s not an uncommon issue with action-comedies - the last act comes, and the filmmakers are less able to fit in funny asides while driving toward the finale - but it’s exacerbated in this sort of comedy. Haaga doubles down on the cruelty, but without the eccentricity and absurdity that made the earlier sequences sing. It’s not a complete fizzle at all - there are funny and shocking moments scattered throughout - but the meanness is more front and center, the more appealing elements further off.

It’s the sort of thing that could often sour one on the movie as a whole, and it’s to Haaga’s great credit that this doesn’t really become the issue it could have. Instead, "68 Kill" is a fun little movie for those who don't mind some bad taste, though it may not all be one’s favorite sort of bad taste.

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originally posted: 04/11/17 10:59:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2017 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Trent Haaga

Written by
  Trent Haaga

  Matthew Gray Gubler
  AnnaLynne McCord
  Alisha Boe
  James Moses Black

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