By: Addison Wylie
Newfoundland receives its own Pootie Tang with Nik Sexton’s rowdy road comedy How to Be Deadly. Hold on though: before you start making snap judgements, that cinematic correlation is a compliment towards how Sexton’s bawdy flick finds a way to fit in.
Pootie Tang, Louis C.K.’s infamous cult flick about an incomprehensible crime fighting celebrity, was – ironically – misunderstood. It was a millennial interpretation of the blaxploitation genre that was unfortunately dumped into theatres due to miscommunication between those who made the movie. Just like Pootie Tang, How to Be Deadly is also centred around an incomprehensible local hero (St. John’s Donnie Dumphy played by Leon Parsons). Instead of cleaning up the streets, Donnie hits the road with hopes to win a minibike competition after losing his off-and-on girlfriend. His simpleton entourage tags along, including silent Tom (played by Dennis Kavanah) whose stoic demeanour reminds audiences of drunkard Phil from Wayne’s World.
Where Pootie Tang found goofy giggles through genre satire and Wayne’s World comedically related to audiences on a generational level, How to Be Deadly makes movie goers laugh through regional connotations and stereotype double bluffs.
Sexton, a Newfoundlander himself, has obviously seen comedy in acquaintances and friends whom he has crossed paths with. How to Be Deadly is his way of holding a mirror to them, and he’s done this in a way that doesn’t inflict snide, mean-spirited chuckles. Because Sexton (and co-writer Edward Riche) have found a friendly wavelength for their film to communicate with audiences on, movie goers will find it easy to embrace How to Be Deadly and laugh at themselves.
I should mention though that the film needs a few early scenes to build and connect with audiences in this way. Some observational jabs are too focused on bitplayer eccentricities and era-confusion, which then construes the humour in a different direction. If the film lingered any longer, good intentions would’ve been tarnished. It’s good Sexton and editor Miles Davren were in touch enough to know when to move the story along.
Donnie Dumphy’s determination to be a minibike champion, beat small-time villain Versatchee, and win the heart of his former sweetie are awfully reminiscent to the aspirations strip mall sensei Fred Simmons had in Jody Hill’s The Foot Fist Way, but Persons’ on-the-fritz goofiness as Dumphy makes the character stand on its own. Audiences will also enjoy and appreciate the Canadian cameos and supporting cast (The Hour Has 22 Minutes’ Susan Kent, CBC’s Rick Mercer, and comedienne Mary Walsh).
How to Be Deadly couldn’t be further from high art, but Nik Sexton’s amiable feature debut is funny as hell.
How to Be Deadly hits Toronto’s Cineplex Yonge Dundas & VIP theatre for one-night-only on Friday, September 25 at 7:00 pm. A Q&A is included, and DVDs of the film will be available after the screening.
How to Be Deadly begins a theatrical run at Cineplex’s Mount Pearl in St. John’s, NL on Friday, September 25. Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL gets a screening of the film at the Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre on September 25 and 26 at 8:00 pm. Lastly, the film hits Cineplex’s Sydney theatre in Sydney, NS on Monday, September 28.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie