Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cashback (2006)

Sometimes, when I watch a movie, I will see a disturbing character trait and wait to see how that trait is addressed in the film.  Main characters are usually supposed to be likable, so these flaws are usually overcome by the end of the movie, whether it be shyness, a lack of trust, or just stupidity.  In an unusual move, Cashback's most memorable moments bring up an issue that is never mentioned or dealt with at all.

Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff, which is a fantastic porn name) got dumped by his girlfriend and developed insomnia.  Not the bad kind that has awful effects on you, like in Insomnia or A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010).  This kind of insomnia is almost a gift; while Ben is still miserable, he now has eight more hours to do things.  At first, he travels and reads all the books he always wanted to but never had the time for, but eventually he chooses to use his extra time working at a grocery store.  He gives them his extra time, and they give him cash back.  See what they did with that title?  Clever!  While at work, Ben notices that his fellow co-workers on the graveyard shift have different methods of letting time pass quickly.  Some goof off as much as possible, and some choose to never look at a clock.  Ben's methods require a little explanation.

Ben stops time.  With his mind.  Is it for real, or just an illusion in his head?  We'll talk about that later.  What would you do with time stopped all around you?  Laundry?  Thank goodness this movie isn't about you, then.  Ben is an aspiring artist, so he does a lot of drawings.  Of women.  Women that he undresses in the grocery aisles while time is paused, and sits right in front of as he sketches them.  Sure, why not?  It helps that the women in his grocery store all have lingerie model-quality bodies, of course; he must work by a Victoria's Secret model plant or something...although I don't know why they would be grocery shopping, since they don't eat.  Obviously, Ben doesn't tell anyone about these frozen moments and, really, the movie is not about them.  It's about recovering from a break-up.  And how do you recover from a break-up?  By finding someone new.  Not a revolutionary story, but it does feature insomnia and the ability to stop time, so at the very least, you know it is not a Nicholas Sparks movie.

This is a British indie movie, so the cast isn't terribly noteworthy, but there are a few actors you might recognize from big budget movies.  You might recognize Sean Biggerstaff from the Harry Potter movies, where he played the captain on the quidditch team; he's decent here, but no revelation.  Marc Pickering plays Brian, the grocery store kung fu aficionado, but you might remember him as Johnny Depp's boy assistant in Sleepy Hollow.  He was actually my favorite character in this movie, playing his tiny part with the same awkward physicality of the Napoleon Dynamite supporting cast.  Emilia Fox is okay as Ben's rebound love interest and she pulls off a rare feat by becoming more attractive as the film goes on.  Shaun Evans is smarmy and unlikable as Ben's cliche-ridden and hormone-driven best friend, but he plays a predictable character fairly well.  Michelle Ryan makes a brief appearance as the dreaded ex-girlfriend and topless models Hayley-Marie Coppin and Keeley Hazell manage to appear on screen and neither act nor deliver any lines.  I wonder what scenes nude models would be in?

Honestly, the acting wasn't anything special, but this story doesn't lend itself to deep roles.  The supporting cast consists of one-dimensional caricatures, with only Biggerstaff and Fox playing characters with anything resembling depth or likability.  This movie is more about its style than its substance.  I find that films with consistent narration throughout the film by the main character tend to emphasize his/her skewed perspective on the world; that's fine when that perspective is interesting, but otherwise it feels like the director is just trying to show off some neat camera tricks.  This film wavers between the two types.  In the beginning of the movie, Ben basically sleepwalks through his days and writer/director Sean Ellis makes those first few moments pretty visually interesting.  The rest of the movie is told in a pretty typical style with occasional exploits in cinematography that feel tacked on and almost masturbatory.  I get it, you bought a slow-motion camera; let's keep the story moving, already.  That tacked on feeling might be because Sean Ellis made a short film of the same name in 2004 and he supposedly incorporated nearly all of that footage into this feature length film.

The big draw to this film is the use of the frozen moments in time.  There are a million break-up stories, but this is a unique story element.  At first, I thought the film was implying that this was just Ben's way of dealing with all his extra time; instead of living every moment, he takes mental pictures and focuses on these images while he lets his body perform monotonous tasks.  And, at first, that's how the movie basically explains it; after a while, though, it becomes apparent that this is an actual ability, which makes Ben the most underachieving superhuman ever.  He can freeze time and he chooses to work in a grocery store?  Being a pizza delivery guy would be a better use of that power, and that's still not exactly reaching for the stars.

Okay, now I'm going to address the odd character trait that this movie does not.  Freezing time to undress and draw strange women in the grocery store is a little weird, right?  Ben's a guy, so it's not a huge surprise that he's perverted, but...that's a little more than voyeuristic.  It's kind of creepy.  "But he's an artist, and he just finds the female form beautiful, blah, blah, blah."  I'm not debating the artistic value of the nude form, I'm arguing that removing the clothes from someone while they are unaware/incapacitated, sitting a foot away from them and drawing their naughty bits is pervy.  It's the same level of creepy as undressing someone while they are passed out and staring at them.  I'm not judging, I'm just saying that part of me feels weird about it and the other part high fives itself because there are boobies on the screen.  And I find it astounding that this is treated as a completely innocent exercise with no repercussions at all.  You would think the most interesting aspect of a movie would impact the story in some major way, but...not so much.

Yes, there are some cool visuals in this movie and there are a couple of sequences (maybe ten minutes out of the entire movie) where there are oodles of female nudity on the screen, but the story and acting are nothing special.  It's kind of lighthearted, at least, but this movie relies heavily on the novelty of nude women to justify why anyone should watch it.  I have heard worse justifications, mind you, but even a thirteen-year-old version of me wouldn't want to watch this movie again.  Well, maybe some parts.

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