In the world of Indie film, the plotless ramble has been a staple for many years now, chiefly because they're suitably cheap and suitably manageable. Dialogue heavy, character driven, they can be set anywhere you like, with whoever you like and about anything you like. And while some are outstanding and others just plain dreadful, most of them at least have the decency to be about something. It's a relatively small, but relatively important detail that seems to have gotten lost somewhere with Skills Like This, which is maddening because it offers a quite unique and intriguing set up that's positively bursting with possibilities.
During the final act of Max's (Spencer Berger) latest stage opus, somewhere around the closing soliloquy delivered by the spaceman, the WWI fighter ace and the Hispanic gypsy (which is so bad his grandfather has a coronary in the audience), he decides he's an awful writer who's never going to make it. For Max, who has never been able to do anything else, this comes as something of a gut punching moment of clarity that leaves him bereft of both hope and options.
Joining his two buddies in a nearby diner for a little post-disaster dissection, Max is flanked by professional underachiever Tommy (Brian D. Phelan) whom, desperate to support his friend, is over the moon at Max's decision to abandon all hope. Offering a slightly more centrist view is Dave (Gabriel Tigerman), who preaches Max should straighten up, fly right, and get a job - despite the fact that he's there because his own boss thinks his name is Roger and therefore won't notice he's absent. Desperate for a mere ounce of self-determination, Max acts on his split second impulse to tear into the bank across the street, grab the guard's gun, put it to his own head and demand all the money. Something he finds, feels pretty damn good.
Sadly after setting up this impressive house of cards Berger and Tigerman (who also script) seemingly have no idea what to do next and Skills Like This is a film utterly devoid of any identifiable second act. Max, dubbed by the local paper as "the suicide bandit", continues his impulse driven crime spree, visits his ailing grandfather in the hospital and strikes up a relationship with morbidly curious bank teller Lucy (Kerry Knuppe) after she recognizes him at a bar. Meanwhile Dave takes the afternoon off to accompany Tommy on a funny but strikingly pointless series of interviews for positions he's nowhere near qualified for (paralegal, substitute teacher) seemingly designed to somehow illustrate the futility of effort. His beloved bicycle named Gabriel, over which he has an unhealthy obsession, is also stolen in a side gag that's neither explained nor properly developed. Max and Lucy argue the merits of robbing banks and convenience stores versus not, and Tommy and Dave argue the merits of getting a job versus not, and none of it ever really goes anywhere.
With the film's lack of discernible action, the most entertaining thing on display in the entire movie is the frankly bizarre choices made by director Monty Miranda, whose sole previous experience is commercials, which is obvious. Miranda's a wizard with a camera and knows all kinds of neat little tricks. But hopping around from wide shot to Dutch angle to crane and back again when it's just two guys standing there talking is simply strange rather than arresting. He's fantastic at moving the camera, crap at keeping it still and just not the guy for this type of film thanks to his dizzy-dizzy editing being a little bit Scrubs, slightly Eagle Vs Shark and not quite Garden State. He's also terrified of silence, insisting on lacing the talky scenes (which make up the majority of the film) with some bizarre wild sounds or ill-fitting dance beats.
Max, with the law closing in and having realized that he's unintentionally dragged his friends neck deep into his quarter life crisis, resolves his quandary and makes up his mind - which he then changes, and then changes again. Not so much ending the story as hacking it off at the torso, Berger and Tigerman wrap things up with a final reel that's so positively underwhelming that you leave the theater in no doubt as to where they drew their inspiration for Max and his creative dilemma from. Having spent well over an hour preaching the gospel of free-spirited hedonism, turning round and telling us to literally go get jobs is at best lazy and at worst downright weak-willed. Own it or get off it guys, please.
"Skills Like This" opens March 20, 2009 and is rated NR. Comedy. Directed by Monty Miranda. Written by Spencer Berger and Gabriel Tigerman. Starring Brian D Phelan, Gabriel Tigerman, Kerry Knuppe, Spencer Berger.