(Tired of seemingly all discussion of movies in this country anymore sliding towards poop fests and other kiddie fare? Me too, which is why I decided to dedicate my Netflix account to nothing but "grown-up" movies, and to write reviews here of each one I see. For a master list of all reviews, as well as the next movies on my "queue" list, click here.)
Coyote County Loser (2009)
Written by Robert Bethke, Don Porter, Jacob Roebuck and Lucas Roebuck
Directed by Jason Naumann
As I've said here many times, I'm a huge fan of these underground-arts-friendly days that we're going through right now, the days of high-def cameras and powerful consumer software; it essentially lets a low-budget filmmaker put out a movie just as high in quality as a typical Hollywood B-picture, minus a few million bucks and several spoiled unions, with the results even being watched on a million inexpensive high-def home plasma screens, delivering a maximum theatre-like effect at the end to customers without the need for any actual theatres. Ah, but even with all that, indies still have a burden ahead of them; since they lack the insanely large marketing budgets, long-established distribution deals, and all-pervasive media coverage that comes with being a major-studio release, they are responsible for still somehow elevating themselves above such mainstream fare, if they ever want a chance of becoming one of those breakthrough sleeper hits that play at Sundance and are talked about on Charlie Rose. And let's face it -- that when you can't compete in terms of budget or effects or talent, writing is about the only option left, which is why nearly every breakthrough hit in the history of indie film has always had an exquisite script at its core. And this is also why indie films with only subpar scripts, no matter how great they look, will always remain little more than pet projects for that filmmaker and their friends, a fun experience no doubt but not something that can realistically ever make a significant profit, nor ever gain a traditional distribution deal.
Take for example County Coyote Loser, a no-budget romantic comedy from a whole team of New Mexican filmmaking pals (including writers Robert Bethke, Don Porter, Jacob Roebuck and Lucas Roebuck, and director Jason Naumann). Because make no mistake, I applaud it for everything it got right, which is a lot for a semi-pro crew with barely any resources -- it's a gorgeous film, featuring a whole plethora of interesting locations and surprisingly high-quality sets and props, shot professionally and acted professionally and edited professionally and with a highly capable original soundtrack. And I don't mean for any of that to be faint praise, and indeed I legitimately think that all of these things are to be rightly celebrated, given that 90 percent of no-budget films fail to manage even this; so what a frustrating shame, then, to see so much effort put towards a script that reads like Nora Ephron on a bad day, a messily-assembled hodgepodge of lazy rom-com tropes that becomes almost a comical self-parody of itself by the end.
The trouble starts right at the beginning, in fact, merely from the small town the filmmakers decided to create for this story, one of those impossibly quaint Northern Exposure-style places that seem to only exist in the minds of hacky screenwriters, where every citizen just happens to be some dirt-covered yet noble good ol' boy full of syrupy homespun quirky advice, except for the main female character who happens to look like she just stepped out of an open audition for some beach reality show on FOX. It's within such an environment that our cliche-filled hero Jack Proctor's shiny new sportscar breaks down (thus letting you know that he's a big-city cellphone-yakking frat boy); and thus it is that he's having lunch at the local diner when suddenly all activity stops, so that the entire town can sit enthralled while they listen to our local female hero Lauren Hartford's daily radio talk show concerning...wait for it...that's right, relationships. And hey, she even has her own cutesy version of that stupid sorority-girl "Rules" thing for dating, something she calls the "Non-Negotiable Checklist;" and it's in fact the glib arbitrary nature of this "NNCL" that inspires an angry Jack to call her show from the diner, leading to what the writers obviously mean to be a classic scene of witty romantic repartee, its level of actual success highly open to debate.
But wait! Turns out that he just happens to be a radio host too! Who's just been let go from his high-profile Los Angeles gig! And who just broke up with his outrageously bitchy girlfriend! Who just happens to be asked by the small-town station manager to come on as a witty co-host for Lauren's show! News of which drives Lauren crazy! Which of course just ups the deliciously risque banter that makes the show such a hit! And thus does this two-hour snowball of chick-lit stereotypes just keep rolling along, picking up cliches just as fast as the writing team can steal them from the collective ouevre of Sandra Bullock: of course the happily-married oldsters are always spewing out poetically perfect love advice in every scene they're in; and of course Jack's cellphone selectively works and doesn't work throughout the movie, based on what the script most needs it to do at any given point; and of course a would-be nice-guy suitor is treated like sh-t by Lauren, which of course is rationalized away by the end as ethically okay behavior, as long as she eventually ends up with the person she was spiritually meant to be with; and of course the movie even features a pair of nerdy station engineers going through their own nerdy sexual tension, serving both as comic relief and as a surrogate couple through which the main lovebirds can substitutionally express their own relationship frustrations. Of course it does, of course of course it does.
Whew. I'm sorry for the rant, I really am; I know that ultimately it's a miracle whenever a small group of no-budget filmmakers get a project like this even finished and out to the public in the first place, and that we should ultimately be celebrating this, not mocking it. And like I said, this is absolutely no worse than the typical Drew Barrymore chick-lit rom-com piece of crap you'll find at your neighborhood cineplex on any given Friday night; but as an advocate of smart writing, this simply isn't enough for me, when the best thing you can say about an artistic project is, "It wasn't completely terrible." I expect more from a project that asks for my time and money, and in my opinion Coyote County Loser simply fails on this count. Now, all that said, I still encourage you to go check out the movie yourself, if for nothing else than to see if you maybe disagree with me; I liked the film just enough for that, to recommend everyone at least going and watching the trailer, although I personally just cannot in good conscience give it exactly a full recommendation. I apologize to all you struggling filmmakers who are tempted to be disappointed by a review like this, and by seeing someone dismiss a film so thoroughly based only on the quality of its script; but at a place like CCLaP, where the whole point is to celebrate superb writing, this is simply how it sometimes is.
Out of 10: 6.3