Sunday, January 25, 2015

Expiration Date (2006)

Director: Rick Stevenson                              Writers: Rick Stevenson & Hamish Gunn
Film Score: B.C. Smith                                 Cinematography: Bruce Worrall
Starring: Robert A. Guthrie, Sascha Knopf, Dee Wallace and David Keith

This is a very clever movie, and it’s not hard to see how it won so many awards--thirty three, at last count. That said, it’s just this side of good for me, but perhaps it’s just my taste in comedy, which leans much more toward the dry. Expiration Date by Rick Stevenson manages to weave some very interesting elements together to come up with a zany romantic comedy. The film is set in Seattle and while it is a small, independent feature it nevertheless managed to attract some name stars, including Dee Wallace, David Keith, and Richard Sanders. The film was shot in Seattle and lovingly frames the city in many different lights and times of day. One of the many terrific running gags in the film, however, is that from seemingly every exterior angle in the film you can see the Space Needle in the distance. Writer-director Rick Stevenson isn’t exactly a young filmmaker on the come, but had already tasted some success in Hollywood beginning as a producer back in the eighties before turning to writing and directing. It was through his work with name stars that he was able to call in some favors and probably ensured the financing and distribution that earned him all those film festival awards. It’s a solid film that has a lot to like, but also some pretty big flaws that keep it from being anywhere near great.

The opening draws on two films in particular. The idea of the old man telling the young boy a story--one that is interrupted in the middle--is borrowed directly from The Princess Bride. The other element, the milk bottle in the paper sack instead of booze, was done by Harper Lee in her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The old man is played by Ned Romero, and when he sees the young Nakotah LaRance waiting for the bus at the reservation stop, he wants to tell him a story. LaRance doesn’t want to hear any “oral tradition” garbage, but Romero cons him by telling him there’s a part where the girl does this thing with her lips. Waiting anyway, he agrees, and Romero tells him the story of Robert A. Guthrie, whose father and grandfather both died on their twenty-fifth birthday, and were both killed by milk trucks. Guthrie, with only eight days to go until his twenty-fifth birthday, is looking at funeral plots, shopping for caskets, and making a list of the things he wants to do in his remaining days. His mother, Dee Wallace, owns a flower shop and she has already mapped out the milk deliver routes on a map for him. Then one day while picking out a casket he meets Sascha Knopf, inside the casket he wants. They begin by arguing over it because she saw it first and wants it for her dying mother. But he has the money, so he buys it out from under her, starting a feud that includes painting on each other’s front doors.

There’s a definite chemistry between the perky Knopf and the depressed Guthrie, but he refuses to give in to anything like affection because he knows he’s going to die. Eventually, however, he goes to see her mother in the cancer clinic and learns that it is actually Knopf who is dying and suddenly the romance is on. Meanwhile Guthrie works in a coffee shop full of zany customers like the long-haired ex-marine David Keith, and Brandon Whitehead, who can’t get enough caffeine. There are so many running gags in the film it’s difficult to keep up with them all. Knopf has an adopted dog named Roadkill, who has narcolepsy and passes out on the sidewalk where people assume he’s dead. The coffee shop where Guthrie works is owned by Benjamin Ratner, but none of the customers want him to make their coffee as only Guthrie will do. And when Guthrie is dating Knopf she tells him she has a stalker. Unfortunately, he’s a milk delivery driver with a cow figure hanging in a noose from his rearview mirror. When Knopf goes in for her first kiss with Guthrie she tells him that she wants to do it like the old movies where their lips get incredibly close to each other without actually touching. This is another running gag, and it also stops the film when LaRance is outraged that this is the moment he was waiting for. But he’s too far in to stop now, and tells Romero to finish his tale.

As I stated earlier, this is a comedy that is on the exaggerated side, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for subtlety. This is too bad. All of the actors tend to overact, as though they’re trying to create bigger than life characters, but instead it simply comes off as stilted and affected. Guthrie, in particular, plays his depression too forward and it gets in the way of his performance. Dee Wallace spends most of her time yelling, either in delight or in fear, while David Keith chews the scenery in his trucker hat and bared arms trying to pick up every woman in the coffee shop. Richard Sanders, who is almost exclusively known for his nebbish role on the seventies sit-com WKRP in Cincinnati, is the best of the three as a cemetery manager. The writing is very good, and the surreal nature of the film is definitely inspired. Unfortunately, Stevenson’s ability to handle the actors is not very good, and what could have been a comedy gem had the actors been reined in, allowing the dialogue and situations to provide the humor rather than the characters, instead gets mired in missed opportunities. Even so, Expiration Date is a clever and entertaining film that has pleased a lot of fans over the past decade, and it’s one of the better independent films to come out of Seattle in the past fifteen years.

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