Ass Backwards (2013) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: Not rated but would definitely be R for crude and sexual humor, brief nudity, drug content, and language
Running Time: 85 min.
Cast: June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson, Brian Geraghty, Alicia Silverstone, Vincent D'Onofrio, Bob Odenkirk, Jon Cryer, Paul Scheer
Director: Chris Nelson
Screenplay: Casey Wilson, June Diane Raphael
Review published December 13, 2013
I'm a fan of Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, a film that the terribly titled Ass Backwards can't help but draw comparisons to, which is probably why I feel I'm predisposed to enjoy a film like this. This is an equally energetic, fun-loving, dimly extroverted, irreverent comedy of misadventures featuring two attractive, funny and talented female leads, both of whom are appealing in their roles, featuring lots of vibrant colors, kitschy music, and small roles from a good collection of comic actors. All of the ingredients are there -- save one. The laughs.
I didn't mind sitting through Ass Backwards, and as entertaining as I find Casey Wilson (The Guilt Trip, Killers) and June Diane Raphael (Girl Most Likely, Year One), longtime collaborators whose previous cinematic experience had been to write the script to the dumb comedy Bride Wars, to watch in these roles, it is now as I sit and write this in order to tell you about the parts that I found funny, that I can't come up with a single thing that drew out a solid chuckle from me. It's not that it is unfunny, per se, but it isn't something I can genuinely say, "Hey, that part where they did that thing -- wow, I could watch that over and over!"
Rather than a high school reunion in order to draw our heroines to take a road trip and try to prove themselves, and fail, against the girls who consider themselves their betters, Ass Backwards features a beauty pageant. Wilson stars as go-go dancer Chloe and Raphael stars as Craigslist-ad egg-donor Kate, two BFFs in their 30s in New York City who are very far from having their act together, financially, romantically, or pretty much in any way. They're all set to be evicted from their abode when they get a brainstorm to compete in a 50th Anniversary reunion pageant to vie for the Miss Neptune tiara one more time, presided over by their more successful frenemy, Laurel (Silverstone, Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker), the girl who beat them in the pageant as a child thanks to the fact that neither of the girls had any sort of the talent they think they possess.
Though the trip should only take a few hours, it takes them days (I suppose this is one of the film's jokes), while they visit Chloe's equally financially-strapped father (D'Onofrio, Escape Plan), cohabitate in a women-only compound with (presumably) biker lesbians, and shack up for a spell with a reality-TV rehab star (Geraghty, Flight) who can't get off of the meth. They also adopt a wild bunny rabbit named Andrew.
I think the real problem with Ass Backwards isn't any of the talent of the people on board, it's that Wilson and Raphael, who succeeded in getting this film made through the help of a Kickstarter campaign, didn't make their characters approachable enough to root for. They are as shallow as Romy and Michelle, but they don't have that undercurrent of sweetness that gets us on their side. Whereas Romy and Michelle thought they would have to lie in order for their peers to think they made something of themselves, Chloe and Kate come ready-made with delusions of grandeur, thinking they truly are better than the rest; they believe they just haven't been recognized for their talents yet.
We watch them do silly things in envelope-pushing ways, and while they engage enough to keep our attention, none of it really takes root to make their beauty pageant climax actually mean something. If they win, it's not likely anything they do to earn it, and if they lose, no big deal, really. They are clueless, smug, and shallow. While the actresses' performances are fun, in the end, these two don't make spending time with the duo a joy beyond the set-ups to potentially jokey scenes that have no worthwhile punch line. The film begins and ends with the a shot of our protagonists squatting to pee out in public because, well, I guess this is the kind of movie that thinks we'll find any manner of brash behavior funny. I suppose this approach does explain the rationale for all of the scenes in between.
Despite the comedic appeal of the women in front of the camera, who also wrote the script, there's just not enough gags that land solidly for the film to hit any kind of stride. They both seem always on the cusp of being funny, and certainly the direction by Chris Nelson is able to keep the tone on the level to catapult the material into comedy gold, but it languishes in mediocrity despite a copious amount of energy. Plus, it can never shake the shadow of its inspiration, Romy and Michelle, to give it credit as an original premise. Unless you're a huge fan of either of the two women at the top of the ticket, or just are a sucker for nonstop irreverent absurdity and peppy pop tunes, Ass Backwards comes and goes without leaving any lasting impressions.
©2013 Vince Leo