Director: Jim Hosking
Stars: Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, Elizabeth De Razzo
There’s a chain restaurant called Absurd Bird you may have heard of. At Absurd Bird you can, from limited experience, dine on unpleasant, dry and burnt combinations of chicken and miscellaneous carbs, served up in cramped locations filled with awkward swinging chairs. While you gnaw your way into their tough food options, you’ll be blasted contemptuously with overly loud club music from the likes of The Chemical Brothers. A friend of mine attempted to comment on the inappropriate nature of the music. The response saw the staff fall back on the chain’s trademark catchphrase; “Its absurd!”
The thing is, sometimes something isn’t absurd. Sometimes it’s just a bad idea. Like serving dry chicken. Or asking people to sit in a swing for the experience. A catchphrase ultimately isn’t going to mask that.
The Greasy Strangler is the film world’s version of a visit to Absurd Bird. Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and Big Brayden (Sky Elobar) are father and son, living together in a dilapidated house somewhere in anonymous American suburbia. They run a two-bit walking tour of disappointing and made-up locations from disco history while wearing matching gaudy pink outfits. That is, when they’re not shouting “bullshit artist” at one another, or eating greasy meat products. They’re losers of that hidden America that John Waters was so fond of. The underside Hollywood avoids at all costs, where people are poor, lazy, overweight, stupid and selfish.
Such grotesques aren’t helpful to the realities of poor America, but taking The Greasy Strangler so seriously would be a grave mistake. This is intended as wacky, comedic cinema with a subversive edge, but the intent to shock is so desperate that it rather nullifies itself. It lacks the pathos of, say, The League Of Gentlemen (certainly the UK’s high water mark in such regards) or even Todd Solondz’s recent Wiener-Dog, instead channeling a line of increasingly tiresome fart and penis jokes, enough to make this year’s other novelty comedy film Swiss Army Man seem positively highbrow. And throughout is the dismal sense that this film doesn’t love the nooks and crannies of America it purports to celebrate; it hates them, and is happy to treat them with scorn and derision.
Ronnie is the titular menace, wandering the neighbourhood at night naked, covered in grease, committing bizarre murders. Balding virgin Brayden, meanwhile, has a burgeoning relationship with one of their customers, Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo); something that doesn’t sit so well with the old man. And so the film trundles along, with “bullshit artist” yelled again and again until it loses all meaning, let alone comedic value, ugly prosthetic genitals cluttering the screen and ladles of grease being poured over grapefruits, popcorn, toast… you name it.
Early on the film evidences the joke that runs out of steam only to get funny again pretty well when a man has the seeming inability to say the word ‘potato’. Yet The Greasy Strangler’s creators Toby Harvard and director Jim Hosking take this philosophy and apply it to the film wholesale. There are only a handful of different situations that really occur here; they’re just remixed ad nauseam like some kind of intentional test on the viewer’s patience. The Greasy Strangler is unusual, definitely – just as it wants to be – but it’s also immensely tedious.
Occasionally. Occasionally the film gets what it wants, and the mix of odd and unsavoury does combine into something that generates laughter, even if it’s of the nervous variety, but more often than not these efforts fail to coalesce. Much of the movie is just time spent.
The gross-out factor is high – particularly a scene in which Janet investigates something she discovers on the carpet – but the more warped and explicit things become, the less impressive it all feels. There are minor saving graces. The loony score is awful, but it at least provides a sort of audio emoticon to suggest to the audience that there’s a winky face behind all this somewhere. While some of the more outrageous visual effects hark back fondly to 80’s B-movies like The Stuff. But these are peripheral pleasures; Easter eggs that it’s tough to rustle up the enthusiasm to find when everything is set to such a mindless minor key. By the time the final half hour shuffles into view it’s tough to care one way or another about anything being offered up by this movie.
I’m not a conservative person and I welcome genuine provocation and risk taking in cinema, but this is just a puerile waste of your time. Likewise, comedy desperately needs injections of the weird and innovative, otherwise we’re left with the mass of weary identikit sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory or Two Broke Girls. But when the alternative is – let’s not mince words – as shit as this, it only does bland conformity a favour.
In order to genuinely challenge conventions artists need to provide a worthwhile alternative. The Greasy Strangler simply isn’t it. Screaming that your product is absurd doesn’t make it good.