Review: ‘Half-Cocked’

Life among young bohos and would-be rockers gets a strikingly true-to-life treatment in the deadpan road movie "Half-Cocked." Co-creators Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky are indie-rock scene veterans, experience that shows in every frame. While the no-budgeter may be too insiderish and understated for the Generation X masses, its wry comic veracity could score a bull's-eye with hip college auds.

Life among young bohos and would-be rockers gets a strikingly true-to-life treatment in the deadpan road movie “Half-Cocked.” Co-creators Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky are indie-rock scene veterans, experience that shows in every frame. While the no-budgeter may be too insiderish and understated for the Generation X masses, its wry comic veracity could score a bull’s-eye with hip college auds.

Pic’s strong suit is an authenticity unique among films dealing with the slacker and ’90s college-radio milieu. Cast with non-actors who play in indie bands and shot on the Southeastern club circuit, it starts out seeming almost like a modern WPA docu about the young and disaffected in Louisville, Ky., with its p.o.v. thoroughly that of the grungy subjects. Yet it also evinces a crucial measure of ironic distance, which emerges in the tale’s ruefully witty unfolding.

Story opens on Tara (Tara O’Neil), who speaks in uninflected mumbles and hides her face behind chin-length bangs. Living in a crash house with too many spongers, she’s relatively upstanding in that she works for a living, though like her pals who deliver pizzas and labor in copy shops, she’s bored silly with her job selling movie tickets.

Relief of sorts arrives one night at a gig by a band featuring her brother, a posturing rock-star-in-his-own-mind. Annoyed by his antics, Tara impulsively swipes his equipment-filled van, inviting aboard four friends as she careens out of the parking lot.

The joyride ends with the gang nearly broke in the cold dawn light of Chattanooga. After an inept attempt at shoplifting, they stumble into a music store where they announce themselves as a band and score a gig as openers in a show that night. Since none of the party can play, they simply turn up the volume and distortion to create a grating cacophony that alienates most clubgoers but wins awed admiration from the headliners, who hand them the night’s profits.

Thus is Truckstop, as the de facto band dubs itself, launched on an impromptu tour of the South.

In chronicling band’s road woes, pic’s remainder will draw understanding winces from anyone who’s ever endured the supposed romance of a rock tour, especially the most impecunious variety. Monotony breeds boredom, poverty breeds frustration, and close quarters breed inevitable chafing. Still, there’s the weird sense that all the hardships are somehow justified by that hour in the limelight, guitars roaring.

As seemingly unaffected as the characters it portrays, pic avoids obvious jokes and satiric swipes to focus on overheard shards of conversation and desultory incidents. Result is not so much a rock comedy as a scene snapshot, bracing in its dry humor and first-hand accuracy, with uniformly winning performances from the nonpro cast and an appealingly rugged B&W look. Pic’s soundtrack, on Matador Records, features tunes by an array of current indie-rock bands.

Half-Cocked

Production

A Bullhorn production. Directed, edited by Suki Hawley. Screenplay, Hawley, Michael Galinsky.

Crew

Camera (B&W, 16mm), Galinsky; music, Galinsky; sound, Peter Schneider; line producer, Rachel McNally. Reviewed at Millennium Film Workshop, N.Y., Dec. 15,1994. Running time: 80 MIN.

With

With: Tara O'Neil, Jon Cook, Jeff Mueller, Cynthia Nelson, Jason Noble, John Moses, Sean Meadows.
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