Best Men

Director: Tamra Davis  
Luke Wilson, Sean Patrick Flanery, Drew Barrymore

Although I am a movie critic, and you the reader are most likely not, I think that I still share the same desires when it comes to the world of film. Most of the time, when I dip into the motion picture industry, I look for success. For example, when I sit down to watch a movie (whether I intend to review it for this web site or not) , my usual hope is that it will be a success in whatever way it was aimed at, and that I don't feel like I've wasted ninety minutes of my life when the end credits start rolling. That's most of the time. But I must admit that there are times when I am interested in something in the world of film that ended up being a failure. Once again, a lot of those times have to do with movies I sit down to watch. Sometimes I find a movie that fails in its intentions to be very interesting. Often the failure can teach me something about the making of movies, and can be an interesting educational experience for someone who wants to make their own movie as a lesson as to what not to do. Another reason why a movie failure can be interesting is that the things that make a movie fail can actually end up making the movie very entertaining to watch, though in ways the filmmakers did not intend to make their movie so entertaining. There are several examples of this on my web site, including Troll 2 and Blood Freak. But another kind of failure found in the motion picture industry that interests me is the failure of certain movie studios, movie studios that made a number of costly mistakes over a period of years that in the end forced the permanent closing of the doors of these certain studios.

Even if you are not as big of a film industry buff as I am, I am pretty sure you know of the failings of a few certain studios, even if you are unfamiliar with the details that explain what made these studios fail. One failed studio that has given me enough interesting stories and events during the years has been of Orion Pictures. The studio got its start in 1978 after several frustrated heads of United Artists quit so that they could have their own company that would give them more freedom. Orion Pictures started very promising, but as it turned out, thirteen years later they would file for bankruptcy. What went wrong? Well, I once read the memoirs of a former Orion executive who gave some of the reasons why Orion failed. He noted that in the first few years of Orion making movies, Warner Brothers was their distributor, and as a result of that kept a good share of the money Orion movies made at the box office. Orion later started distributing their films themselves, but they made some big mistakes. One mistake was not creating their own video label until late in the game, instead selling the video rights to their movies to others. If they had created their own video label years earlier, they would have made more cash in the end. Another mistake was generally ignoring the youth market, where studios typically make a lot of money. Orion was kind of snobbish and generally didn't make youth-oriented films. (And the few times they did, they usually failed at the box office, because they didn't understand the youth audience.) One of the biggest reasons Orion failed, however, was that they never did quite have enough money to promote their movies. For example, while Robocop was certainly profitable (a $53 million gross on a $13 million budget), it wasn't a blockbuster gross, since the movie wasn't as heavily advertised as blockbusters from other studios.

There were other mistakes Orion made, that individually might not have given much harm to the company but all together lead to their bankruptcy. Orion actually survived for several years after declaring bankruptcy, but they were never the same. The completed but shelved movies they released several years later didn't make much of a ripple at the box office. And Best Menwhen they got around to being involved with making and/or distributing new movies, they did even worse. Some of these movies (like Retroactive) didn't even get a theatrical release, and that includes Best Men, the movie being reviewed here, despite having famous stars like Dean Cain (Lois & Clark), Andy Dick, Sean Patrick Flanery (Boondock Saints), Luke Wilson (3:10 To Yuma) and Drew Barrymore (Charlie's Angels) in its cast. The cast of this movie intrigued me enough to buy the DVD from the thrift shop I found it in, but I was also interested to see if with this movie, Orion managed to shut its doors with a big hurrah. The events of Best Men center on a group of five friends (played by Cain, Dick, Flanery, Wilson, and Mitchell Whitfield.) When the movie opens, Jesse (Wilson) is released from a three year stretch in prison, where he is met by his four friends. The plan of the five men is to immediately head to the church in town where Jesse can marry his sweetheart Hope (Barrymore). When they get into town, Billy (Flanery) asks if they can first stop at the bank so he can get some money. What his four friends don't know is that Billy is the notorious bank robber nicknamed "Hamlet" by the press, who has been busy for the past few months robbing banks in the area while quoting Shakespeare. When the robbery takes longer than usual, his four friends enter the bank to see what is going on. In short notice, the bank is surrounded by the police, who think all five men are bank robbers. The five friends now have to put their heads together to think of a way out of the situation.

After watching Best Men, I can say that Orion didn't go out with a bang with this movie. However, at the same time I can't say that they made a forgettable or a really bad movie here. What they did manage to create is one of the strangest movies I have seen in a long time, a movie that is so misguided at times that it almost - but not quite - deserves to be seen because it's unlike any other movie you or I have probably seen. I can't say I liked it, but I will definitely remember it for longer than many of the other movies on this web site. How is this movie misguided? Well, I will start with the five central characters. Although the events of the movie center on them, they never become particularly compelling. More often than not, the only thing that really differentiates them from each other is their physical features. All of their backgrounds are vague and seldom touched on. For example, the character of Buzz (Cain) is revealed to be an ex-Green Beret who was discharged from the service because he was gay, which the other characters in the movie find humor with on several occasions. (Ho ho, someone with a hard core occupation who is homosexual!) Yet this background of his never really influences what goes on around him. If this background were completely eliminated, little of the remaining screenplay would have to be altered. Because all five characters have been given very little to make them each unique individuals, their interactions with each other have no spark, no feeling that there are different opinions. Although you see five men, it sounds like one individual having a conversation with himself. It's as strange as it sounds.

This sameness is even there when the cops surround the bank. You might think that there would be different and strong feelings and opinions from each man, but there really isn't. There's never really a point when the men strive to plan what to do next or what to do to get out of the situation. It should come as no surprise that the five actors playing the friends seem to realize they have a hopeless task on their hands, with such little substance to work with. I guess if I had to choose the best performer, it would be Andy Dick, since he manages to give his character a slight nerdish personality that marginally makes him stand out from his co-stars. Though the screenplay gives him no favors, including the fact that he exits the movie halfway through with an eventual fate that is never revealed. In fact, other characters in the movie are poorly written as well. Barrymore isn't seen until more than thirty minutes of the movie have passed. When she does appear, she immediately slugs her fiancÚ in the face, and then the movie quickly cuts to other characters elsewhere before we get to see her character and Wilson's have a serious talk about the situation, a talk that is really needed but we never get. The town sheriff (played by Fred Ward) happens to be the father of Flanery's bank robber character, but the movie puts off dealing with this fact properly for so long that near the end, when Ward and Flanery finally have a decent conversation, it feels both too late and unsatisfying. (I feel I should also add that Ward's character disappears not long after this point, and is never brought up again.) However, the most unbelievable (and annoying) character has to be the chief F.B.I. agent on the case, played by Raymond J. Barry. He is not only nasty to everyone working under his command, his various plans for diffusing the hostage situation are so risky towards the bank hostages and so unprofessional that even those with little to no knowledge of F.B.I. tactics will know that there is something very wrong with his behavior.

The unbelievable characters to be found in Best Men by themselves make the movie somewhat strange, but the movie makes other actions that make the viewing experience very bizarre. Many times there seems to be scenes missing from the movie. It's not explained how Flanery's character enters the bank with just a tuxedo on, but manages to pull out a ski mask, gun, black jacket, and a duffel bag out of nowhere. During the hostage taking, we suddenly get a scene of the hostages eating pizza - where did it come from? Later in the movie, Whitfield's character says he made a deal with the F.B.I., but there's no way he could have done this without his friends knowing about it. And near the end, a character that has managed to evade police custody (just how is never explained) somehow not only gets a helicopter out of the blue, but knows the exact location to bring it to. But probably the weirdest thing about the movie is its tone. At this point, you are probably thinking that the movie is more or less a comedy, possibly due to its cast. Indeed, the movie is often very light-hearted, with plenty of wisecracks and other kinds of attempted humor. Yet the movie also contains scenes of people being graphically shot, people dying, and serious themes such as people who were neglected by a parent as a child. As you can probably guess, this deadly serious stuff doesn't fit very well with the lighter parts of the movie. Mixing equal parts comedy and seriousness is very risky in the world of moviemaking, and it needs a sure hand to pull it off. Best Men probably would have worked better if it had played it mostly comic, or like Dog Day Afternoon, mostly seriously. In fact, one character in the movie mentions Dog Day Afternoon at one point, seemingly telling us where the screenwriters got their inspiration for Best Men. If you ask me, they didn't study the Pacino movie close enough.

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See also: Cold Turkey, Free Money, Retroactive