I didn’t used to have a bone to pick with actor Craig Sheffer, but I now want to punch him in the balls. His feature directorial debut, American Crude, is, to put it politely, a big, steaming pile of crap.
Where to begin? I could (and probably should) have devised a review of this movie based solely around its howlingly awful, PhotoShopped DVD cover, which crams the head of Michael Clarke Duncan onto a body so skinny as to defy notions of logic and gravity, and throws into the mix a picture of Jennifer Esposito seemingly snapped at the premiere of some other, much better film. That would have saved me the pain that awaits when one spins the disc contained inside.
This movie’s “plot,” as it were, is little more than a wheel-spinning excuse for a bunch of crass, clanging stereotypes and outlandishly uninteresting oddballs to run around and into one another, spouting inanities. All tell and no show, the Los Angeles-set movie’s thunderously stupid opening montage (“The past will catch up to all of us before the night is through…”) introduces us to the fact that married schemer Johnny (Ron Livingston) has somehow ended up in prison, after throwing a bachelor party for his best friend Bill (Rob Schneider), who’s engaged to his ex-girlfriend Olivia (Amanda Detmer). Flashing back through the frantic evening, all best-laid plans come crashing down as a bunch of highly eccentric characters converge, with no deed, good or bad, going unpunished.
In addition to Cynthia Watros as Johnny’s wife, Jane, there’s Scrubs‘ John C. McGinley as a nutty plumber who accepts sexual favors from a transsexual prostitute (Missi Pyle), and the aforementioned Clarke and Esposito as a pimp-and-ho combo with a role-reversed power dynamic. Oh, and there’s Raymond Barry as Johnny’s dad, a pornographer who draws the line at filming a gangbanger fucking a sheep, and instead sets his sights on coercing into action a runaway virgin teen (Sarah Foret) he befriended over the Internet.
So… yeah. It’s as if Sheffer watched fellow actor Peter Berg start with Very Bad Things and then skyrocket to consequentiality as a director, took as the lesson of that to come up with as outrageous and testosteronized a conceit as possible, and then just squared everything. Working from a script he rewrote himself (sharing story credit with Jeff Winiski and Michael Diiorio, who are credited as a team), Sheffer drives this sucker totally into the ground, evidencing no particular grace or skill with set-up, editing or direction of performance. The dialogue is certainly no better, with lame, awkwardly scripted debates about Ebonics, silicone (“the good shit”) versus saline breast implants and vegetarianism filling out scenes in yawning fashion. Livingston, so great in Office Space, can’t escape the sucking downward pull of the material here, and what starts off as sympathy for him eventually morphs into a sort of jailbreak rage — you want to break into this movie and just pull him out of it, rescue him (and yourself) from the dulling, idiotic pain of it all.
Housed in an Amray case that must somehow be extra-strength and airtight, to keep safe the potent stench and near-lethal acidity contained within, American Crude is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with English, Thai, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby digital 5.1 audio tracks, and a Dolby surround French track as well. Good to know that this title is built for easy international export. Really putting our best creative foot forward, there. The only additional material comes in the way of three more deleted scenes… oh, and a gallery of preview trailers, for Wieners, First Sunday, Hero Wanted, Diamond Dogs, The Boondocks and a half dozen other flicks. To view a scene, click here, and if for some reason after reading this you still want to purchase the film, via Amazon, click here. F (Movie) D (Disc)