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Completely Totally Utterly
(1998)
 

Director: Phil Hwang                                                      
Cast:
Walter W. O'Neil, Zach Ward


Not very long ago, I was over at one of my favorite sites, The Bad Movie Report, and I saw that one of the movies reviewed on that page was provided via a mailed promo copy. Struck with severe misery because no one had ever sent me a promo video, I was about to descend into that severe endless spiral of self inflicted hell that tears you mentally like a thousand shards of broken glass while visions of those you most despised to the power of ten circle you laughing mocking shrieking yelling insulting damning lashing torturing, when soon after I got a e-mail from someone asking if they could send me a video copy of their own 16 mm production. Why not? The Unknown Movies is always seeking a variety of movies to review, even if it does seem at times it has a bias towards movies where people are blasted with shotguns, beaten up, and cut into big bloody pieces with squirts of blood shooting out everywhere. And this page has always had an unwritten policy to review any promo videos of movies received. Hint hint. Plus, you can't get more unknown that someone's "homemade" production.

"A dark comedy", states the small media release from Burbank-located Wet Process Productions of Completely Totally Utterly. The movie centers around two roommates and best friends, Brent and Chad. Brent, a down on his luck youth, convinces Chad to help him dig up a freshly buried corpse at the neighborhood cemetery, so they can use it as a macabre prop for their Halloween party. The party is a success, with the corpse giving the partygoers the macabre shock that Brent and Chad hoped for. But after the party, problems start to arise. After another tenant in the apartment complex tells the buddies that the cops have staked out the building because of a suspected sex pervert living inside, Brent and Chad can't sneak the corpse out of the building. A guest at the party starts blackmailing them when he learns they still have the corpse. Meanwhile, as a number of lucky things start happening in Brent's life, Chad's personal life goes to hell - is the corpse responsible?

On the technical side, Completely Totally Utterly is above average when it comes to productions of this kind. One problem I have with 16 mm productions is that they are usually poorly lit, especially when it comes to night scenes. Except for one or two shots, the night scenes here are surprisingly well lit, so you can see enough of what's happening to understand what's going onscreen. Daytime and indoor scenes also have adequate lighting. The steadicam work is very smooth as well, up to professional levels. Writer/director Hwang was also smart enough to write a story that involved easily accessible locations needing little to no set decoration. As a result, the low budget overall isn't very evident, except for a scene in a hospital that provides unintended amusement, because it was obviously shot a long way from an actual hospital, and using some shabby props. The only other technical flaws that bothered me were some sequences with uneven audio (scenes with several cuts sometimes gave the dialogue changing audio quality), and there were so many fade-to-black sequences (another quality associated with low budget movies) that it became annoying. In fairness to Hwang, he was obviously working with a very low budget and limited resources, and I was impressed with what he could successfully pull off with what he had. In fact, I'm even prepared to forgive the editing goofs in the scene where one of the buddies plays a Super Nintendo machine.  In one shot, the TV set is turned off though the guy is still playing, and there's a close-up shot in the sequence with hands around a controller from the previous Nintendo system!

The level of acting by the amateur cast is overall good. O'Neil and Ward are believable as two 20ish friends who haven't completely left behind their teenaged sides. There are several conversations in the movie where they talk about a wide range of topics, like Conan the Barbarian, or the time when 8 year old Brent was forced by his mother to be nice to some bullies (one of the highlights). The dialogue has a definite influence from Clerks, though the topics covered here are more down to earth and less flip. Some of their dialogue does occasionally comes across as too self-conscious, or spoken like they are reading from the script, but they manage the bulk of their dialogue well. Most importantly, their characters of Brent and Chad come across as likable and sympathetic guys, even if what they did was a crime. Movie's secondary characters are believable and likable as well, though the actress who plays the neighbor Mary deserves most of the notice. The actress playing her is fabulous, and she is blessed with the movie's funniest (and grossest) scene, when she tells Brent and Chad what the building's pervert said that he'd like to do to her.

The big problem with the movie - that makes it a near miss - is the script. The script isn't really awful; in fact, the movie usually manages to be lightly amusing throughout, with many kooky vignettes. And that's the problem; there are too many vignettes, and not enough story. There's enough story and comedy in Completely Totally Utterly to make a funny 30 to 45 minute short, but at 93 minutes this runs way too long. Instead of focusing on the problem with having a corpse in the house (which hasn't started to stink even after a month has passed) and unsuccessfully trying to get rid of it while these misfortunes happen to the characters, the corpse is left in the closet and mostly forgotten. The movie then becomes a quasi-tragedy with Chad's life falling apart, while his unlucky friend's life gets better. There are attempts to try to tie this subplot with the corpse, suggesting that possibly the corpse may have a part in this, but these attempts are so weak as to be almost non-existent.

Besides avoiding having the heart of the screenplay around the corpse, the movie also has a number of scenes that either don't make sense and/or do nothing to advance the story. Granted, the story - what there is of it - is moving pretty slowly already, but these scenes stick out anyway. There's one scene when a Jamaican breaks into the apartment demanding the corpse, and gets into a fight with one of the two friends before being driven away. The incident is spoken about for one or two lines in the next scene, and then is completely forgotten for the rest of the movie. What was the point of that scene? And how did the Jamaican know about the corpse? Another sequence, when Chad visits the pervert to check him out is amusing (the pervert gives Chad some pants and tells him he can try them on right there), but doesn't really accomplish anything. In fact, though most of these unnecessary scenes do bring some amusement, they overall don't really accomplish anything else.

I imagine that these problems became evident to Hwang during the editing process. If he were to write another screenplay, I'm pretty sure he would remember the script problems from this movie, and make an extra effort to avoid them. Though this present movie isn't a success, he shows some promise, and hopefully next time he'll have a stronger script (as well as an adequate budget) that will allow his talents to fully shine. (Those with powerful enough computers with G3 installed can download Completely Totally Utterly at http://www.bijoucafe.com)

Check for availability on Amazon.

Also: Video Violence, Video Violence 2, Your Three Minutes Are Up

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