Sex, Lies, and Youtube: Roberts’ Sophomore Effort a Sometimes Entertaining Slapstickery
To live, die, and make viral videos in L.A. seems to be the overriding glory in director Jordan Banks’ sophomore film, a slapstick romantic comedy with a tiny lacing of light raunch, 3,2,1…Frankie Go Boom. About as attention getting and simultaneously ungainly as its kitschy title, Roberts (who managed to snag Christopher Walken to star in his first film 2004’s Around the Bend) assembles an interesting cast. While not all of them are utilized to their full potential, there’s enough going on to keep you watching till the end, but the film’s core romantic catalyst, which is responsible for nearly the entire film’s narrative, is entirely unbelievable, and worse, dull. Banks’ film outweighs its jubilant welcome early on, but also happens to feature two of the most colorful cameos you might see this year.
We meet Frankie and Bruce as young boys playing in their backyard, with Bruce, an aspiring filmmaker, tricking his brother into stumbling into a large pit. We’re led to believe that Frankie was repeatedly the tortured subject of his brother’s art, which is why, twenty four years later, we catch Frank (Charlie Hunnam) living out of a tin trailer in the middle of Death Valley, trying to write a novel. A phone call from mom (Nora Dunn) insistently pleads for him to come to L.A. to be at Bruce’s (Chris O’Dowd) graduation from rehab. Apparently they haven’t spoken in three years, not since Bruce taped Frankie’s disastrous wedding and posted it online, which became viral and ruined Frankie’s life. Attempting to bury the hatchet, Frankie does what their mother asks, finding that mom and dad (Sam Anderson) both ride motorbikes because Bruce sold their cars for drugs and the insurance company wouldn’t recognize theft from a family member.
An awkward reunion, with Bruce lining up some filmmaking ‘gigs’ with some uber conservative religious producers he met in rehab, along with a has been movie star, Jack (Chris Noth) and his f*ck bud Claudia (Whitney Cummings), Frankie ends up looking after a drunk girl that runs a bike into his car. Lassie (Lizzy Caplan), wearing a trench coat covering her bra and edible underwear, has just discovered her boyfriend is gay. As she’s in need of some affection, Frankie offers her a place to stay and the two have a sexual liaison, but Frankie has a very difficult time achieving an erection. The next morning, he discovers that his brother filmed it, and a burnt DVD copy is already on the way to Jack’s house, since that’s his new filmmaking partner. Of course, Frankie has a fit, but soon Bruce is on board with getting the DVD back when he discovers that Lassie is Jack’s daughter. What ensues is an overly complicated comedy of errors, where we get a jock-strapped Chris Noth on a treadmill, and, best of all, a transsexual named Phyllis played by Ron Perlman.
While everything points to the character of Phyllis as merely a tasteless exploitation for cheap laughs, Perlman manages to maneuver around making her fodder. In fact, Perlman’s few scene revitalize the lagging second half of the film. Roberts’ curiously cast two UK guys as his lead brothers, Charlie Hunnam (all grown up from us UK “Queer as Folk” days, now on popular series “Sons of Anarchy”) and Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, 2011). Every now and then a bit of an accent peeks through for both of them, but they’re otherwise successful. Isolating himself in the desert, Hunnam is styled as if he’s ready to step into a posh club, but hey, who doesn’t like to look primped and gelled when all alone in the hot desert, furiously writing a novel? The always exceptional Nora Dunn also manages to stand out here, but oddly, Lizzie Caplan, beyond her initial drunken introduction, gets nothing more to do.
It’s unfortunate that everything ends up feeling a little silly, and there are just too many moments of broad comedy to give the proceedings any real wings. But yes, there are laughs to be had in 3,2,1…Frankie Go Boom. It’s just too bad that the central romantic tension, the most undeveloped part of the narrative, is the driving force for all the silliness. Oh, and the finale’s unforgivably cornball, too, especially if you are of the opinion that absolutely nothing was done to foster any chemistry between Hunnam and Caplan. Frankie go meh.