First Date is an appropriate title for a movie made by a team of newbies, most of whom are on their first time out in features. It’s a mad, gonzo comedy thriller, a redneck farce full of swagger and attitude and made in a familiar American style you could call guns ’n poses.
Its writer/directors are Manuel Crosby (this is his debut feature) and Darren Knapp (his second, so a veteran) and its two stars – Tyson Brown and Shelby Duclos – are also new kids on the block. You can’t tell. This feels like a seasoned cast and crew who know what they’re doing.
You could call it the “bad night out” plot, a series of situations escalating in seriousness and absurdity, starting at the point where Mike (Brown) decides to buy a car so he can take out Kelsey (Duclos), the girl he’s been wanting to ask out for the longest time and now this is his chance.
The car, a 1965 Chrysler, is a wreck and it’s also hot. Unbeknown to Mike, there’s something in it that makes it very desirable, both to a gang prepared to kill for possession of it, and the cops, who turn out to be almost as bad as the criminals. Familiar?
Everyone talks a lot. A lot. And a lot of it is funny. Early on it feels like it’s got Tarantino-itis, with a bit of Superbad coming round the edges, on account of the relative youth of Duclos and Brown and their deadbeat teenage screen friends. Later it dives off up a road you’ll have been up before if you’ve seen Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths (the one he made before Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) or the Patrick Lussier film Drive Angry, or Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire.
If you haven’t seen any of those, the formula is chat + guns + villains in bad shiricolas Cage turned up at any point he’d slot right in.
People tend to divide two ways on this sort of thing. Some bridle at the cliche of it all, others succumb to the joy of genre and wallow in the warm bath of the recognisable. The incredibly dumb and superstoked henchman Vince, for instance, played to the hilt by Ryan Quinn Adams, who shouts all of his lines. Gang boss The Captain (Jesse Janzen), the slow-speaking and eloquent sort always keen to give his underlings the wealth of his experience.
The gang, when not discussing drugs or guns or killing teenagers, talk about the book club they’re all in, which is a nice touch recalling that Takashi Miike film Yakuza Apocalypse, where in their down time all the gnarly old gang guys would sit around in a knitting circle.
It’s this mix of the everyday and the absurd that makes First Date entertaining. There’s a fascination with an 8-track tape player that comes with the Chrysler, for instance, and at one point Mike, trying to avoid being shot, finds himself being tripped up by a robot vacuum cleaner that’s gone rogue.
This is a film that knows what it wants and – technically, as well as in terms of acting – isn’t bothering with nuance. Its straightahead meat-and-potatoes shooting style is sufficient unto the story. It’s made for nothing, and the end credits are a remarkable list of the same handful of names coming up again and again, and other names who are obviously family members.
Tyson Brown is a find as the lead. Handsome, wide-eyed enough to be plausible, likeable, versatile, he’ll go as far as he wants to, with a bit of luck.
At any point in the last 20 minutes or so it could have ended and there would have been no loss. It isn’t much of a story and it’s obvious it’s got to finale with a bullets-blazing crescendo in which most people die. In sexual stereotype terms, then, a guys movie. Imagine it’s the 1990s and enjoy.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021