AMAZON PRIME — Simon (Simon Cardoza) is a loser. His only real friend is his roommate, Matt (Matt Barron) who disrespects him at every turn. He’s chatting up a girl online, who sends him lurid pics from time to time, but then stands him up when they’re supposed to finally meet. He has a job, but it’s a joyless drone job in a featureless office with no future. No, Simon doesn’t have much to brag about in life… except for his dog. He loves his dog, and more importantly, his dog loves him! So when his dog goes missing due to one of Matt’s screw-ups, this mild-mannered office clerk must dig deep to overcome his lot in life, and take back what belongs to him!
HELLO GANGSTER is an ultra-low budget indie film directed by Richard Krause. Aided by the crowdsourcing website, Kickstarter, GANGSTER was originally filmed in 2013, and finally released on Amazon Prime earlier this month.
Unfotunately, it’s also a total mess, with a few neat ideas littering the debris.
Look, I totally respect Krause, Cardoza, and Barron for conceiving their film and seeing it through to completion. Making movies is hard work, and making them for no money is damn near impossible. So the fact that HELLO GANGSTER even exists, is watchable, and available to a worldwide audience via a major streaming platform could (and should) be considered a huge victory on its own. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t address some of the glaring problems with this film.
To start, Krause clearly has a great visual eye. GANGSTER looks AMAZING, especially considering its budget (listed on IMDb at $1,500 and on Kickstarted at just over $6,000). Krause’s IMDb profile shows a long list of short films he’s directed before attempting this, his first feature, and the effort shows. The only problem, though, is that as good as this film looks, the visual style and tone completely clashes with the story this film is trying to tell. Just imagine a film like CLERKS being directed Shane Carruth (UPSTREAM COLOR, PRIMER). It doesn’t matter how good your film looks, or how funny your script is, if the vision doesn’t compliment the voice, and vice versa, all you’re going to do is alienate your audience… or make them work overtime to find ways to connect to your movie.
The score is also a huge distraction. While it definitely fits the visual style, and lends itself to a darker tone–it is literally the exact opposite soundtrack one would expect to accompany a film listed as a comedy about a couple of hapless losers turn hapless kidnappers/criminals to have! It literally sounds like something you would hear from a David Lynch art school project, and not a modern crime comedy.
My biggest gripe, however, has to be with the script. Don’t let my earlier example of CLERKS fool you, HELLO GANGSTER isn’t all that funny. While I could see potential in the loser character of Simon, the rest of the small cast feels woefully underdeveloped and completely un-relatable. Due to the flagrant vulgar ramblings of every character throughout the film, it wouldn’t surprise me if the script was just a list of setups, with the actors attempting to improvise their way from beat to beat a la “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or “The League”. And while that sort of thing can work given the right material and performers, it just doesn’t work here. At times HELLO GANGSTER exceeds BLAIR WITCH PROJECT levels of bad improv–where every other word is “fuck” or “fuckin'” or some other variation of the word. Sure, this might be how these guys actually converse with each other in real life, but as a viewer who doesn’t know these guys in real life, the utter lack of a functioning vocabulary just shows a gross lack of care from a storytelling standpoint. It feels and sounds sloppy, which is ironic given the refined visuals. It also creates the feeling that Krause and company were artificially padding the runtime with these sloppy improv scenes to prattle on aimlessly, all to push it to feature length.
It breaks my heart when I wind up writing reviews like this for films like this. I like a good revenge/evolution story where we get to see a character discover their true nature, and attempt to rise to heights they never dreamed possible. Buried somewhere deep inside this film, that story exists… it just takes too much work on this viewer’s part to find and connect with it. Had the script been tighter (a lot tighter), jettisoned the jokes, and focused on the darker nihilistic ideas already present in the film, I feel HELLO GANGSTER could very easily have become an instant cult classic. As it stands, however, I just can’t bring myself to recommend it.
I do look forward to seeing what Krause and company does next. I just hope that with their next outing, they double down on a quality script worthy of its directorial vision.