Directed by Gregory Bayne
I ran across this movie looking for something fun to watch on a Friday night and this film was both a delight and a surprise. There isn’t much information about the movie so I went in with very little expectations. The quality of the storytelling and the superb acting make this film stand out.
Ulysses T. Lovin (played splendidly by Travis Swartz), a self-described loser, has his evening interrupted by a stranger who promises an incredible opportunity if he can just have some of Lovin’s time. Indecisive Lovin leaves the door open a crack both figuratively and literally and the stranger pushes his way into Lovin’s home. At the kitchen table, the stranger, Milton Montgomery (Ross Partridge) explains that a 2 million dollar (or is it 2.4 million dollars?) cache of money is hidden somewhere in Lovin’s house which he’ll split with him if they can look for the treasure together. Lovin heartily agrees, signs a semi-formal contract (handwritten with four simple agreements), and off they go. Except Montgomery’s promise isn’t exactly on the up and up and Lovin finds himself in the role of sleuth with flirty Lizzy Duffrey (Lisa King Hawkes) and her down-to-earth sister Sue (Sara Lynch) after the same prize.
As it turns out, the money was stolen by a relative of Montgomery’s and his partner, the lovely Norma Seville (Jennifer Lafleur). Through Milton’s description and flashbacks, we learn that Seville left clues as to where she buried the treasure in a self-help book called “6 Dynamic Laws for Success (in Life, Love & Money)” which was in Milton’s possession when he meets Lovin. (While there is no such book in real life, we do learn all 6 laws over the course of the movie and they sound authentically written.) Seville runs into young Nicholas (played spot-on by Bennett Huhn) who, she hopes, will play her younger brother to help her get over state lines undetected. Those events of the past have implications for what Lovin and the sisters encounter in the present day so we’re not left guessing in the end how and why things end up the way they do.
Swartz plays Lovin as a lovable, buffoon who stumbles his way through the investigation sometimes hitting on key clues by accident and other times shooting innocent bystanders because he’s never handled a gun before. Partridge, Hawkes, and Lynch play their parts with energy and a wink-and-a-smile playfulness bringing the viewer into the game with them. The movie seems like it shouldn’t be working–it’s too low budget and the actors seem like they’re somebody’s (very talented) brother or sister-in-law who had too much to drink one evening and were talked into being in a movie. It reminded me of the first time I watched Napoleon Dynamite–I was continually asking myself, “What am I watching?” while loving every minute of it.
The pseudo film noir cinematography and screenplay actually work in this movie (it’s shot in black and white) because it doesn’t take itself too seriously and doesn’t try too hard. It plays to the noir elements in just the right amount at just the right times. Some reviews compare the filmmaking to something you’d see in a Soderberg caper or a Cohen brothers film. Those elements definitely are there (think early Cohen brothers particularly) but make no mistake: Gregory Bayne has a unique style and isn’t after mere mimicry. There were enough one-liners and quirky expressions to have me laughing out loud at times but a story that solid enough to keep me engaged throughout.
This is a gem. I hope to see much more by Bayne and each of the principle actors. Together they created something fun, unique, and engaging without a ton of money or big-name actors. This is very rare in today’s environment.