The Gristle (2001) / Crime-Comedy
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would definitely be R for language, crude humor, and mild violence
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Michael Dorn, Eugene Taylor, Mychal Wilson, Carsten Norgaard, Barry Corbin, Valente Rodriguez, Michael McLafferty, Adonis Maropis, Orson Bean, Kris Andersson, Kyle Gates
Director: David Portlock
Screenplay: David Portlock
Review published August 1, 2003
If you're going to try to make it big in the filmmaking industry without money or studio support, and you're a novice, you might as well follow the blueprint by those who came before you who were successful. This seems to be the philosophy espoused by the brain trust behind The Gristle, a Tarantino-esque crime caper with bits of juicy dialogue that will remind you of the raunch-and-wit work of Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Dogma). While not really as impressive as the debuts by either of those creators, writer-director David Portlock does a good job lifting the formula and making it his own, and what could have easily been a cheapie throwaway is made almost worthwhile by some very funny dialogue and energetic performances by a likeable cast.
The main premise of The Gristle is fed by the time-honored idea of mistaken identities. The film starts off with an ailing senator going the black market route by purchasing two kidneys from a couple of lowly hospital orderlies. Two secret service agents are sent to pick up the kidneys, then ice the orderlies to cover up the deed. Meanwhile, some drug smugglers have concocted a way to smuggle in a large shipment of "illegal substances" to sell to a couple of Cuban dealers. What happens when the orderlies meet the dealers while the smugglers meet the secret service agents? Hilarity ensues.
The Gristle isn't blessed with outstanding actors or high production values, and while the dialogue is often hilarious, much of it feels forced and unnatural in actual conversations. Yet it's so hard to dislike because it looks like everyone involved is really having a great time with the outrageous material. Michael Dorn (best know as Worf in the Star Trek: The Next Generation) gets top billing, and while he is certainly an amiable fellow, there's something a little hokey about his character with his deep baritone voice and pitch-perfect delivery of slang. The rest of the cast consists primarily with no-name character actors whose faces might seem familiar to hardcore moviegoers.
The low-budget look and amateurishness of the performances may dissuade some viewers from sticking with it for very long, and that's certainly understandable. Still, the solid directing and scandalously funny politically incorrect but racially-aware dialogue by Portlock is the real diamond in this rough production, and The Gristle entertains despite everything going against it. It's schlock, but it's fun schlock, which is the best kind of bad movie to watch.
©2003 Vince Leo