Though it hails from the proverbial depths of no-budget 16mm first-featuredom , "Bury Me in Kern County," a self-described "white trash black comedy," reps an impressively assured and surprisingly pro debut from writer-director Julien Nitzberg. With John Waters now waxing sentimental, it's somehow reassuring that original, fiercely committed indie satires like this one are still emerging to offset the tamer send-ups found on TV. Commendably avoiding predictable gross-out humor, Nitzberg combines a well-developed sardonic sense and some truly inspired casting choices to fashion a redneck mayhem fiesta that could find a welcoming fan base if accurately targeted toward hipper college and young urban auds.

Though it hails from the proverbial depths of no-budget 16mm first-featuredom , “Bury Me in Kern County,” a self-described “white trash black comedy,” reps an impressively assured and surprisingly pro debut from writer-director Julien Nitzberg. With John Waters now waxing sentimental, it’s somehow reassuring that original, fiercely committed indie satires like this one are still emerging to offset the tamer send-ups found on TV. Commendably avoiding predictable gross-out humor, Nitzberg combines a well-developed sardonic sense and some truly inspired casting choices to fashion a redneck mayhem fiesta that could find a welcoming fan base if accurately targeted toward hipper college and young urban auds.

Granted, spoofs of stoners and low-rent criminals aren’t new to indie films. What sets Nitzberg’s apart is the consistent freshness of his comic p.o.v., beginning with pic’s focus on two sisters who’re the unlikeliest banditas since Thelma met Louise.

Timid-as-a-kitten Sandra (Mary Sheridan) gets in trouble first. The calamity isn’t just that the cops raid her home on Halloween and bust her husband, Dean (Judson Mills), for selling homemade speed; it’s also that the whole thing is filmed for a “Cops”-style reality TV show. When that’s broadcast, Dean’s mother dies of a heart attack, which means that Sandra has to raise Dean’s bail as well as his mom’s funeral costs.

She turns for help to her younger sister, Amanda (Mary Lynn Rajskub), a spacey doper whose main contribution is to convince Sandra to get high. Zonked on wine coolers and pot, and bizarrely costumed to hide their identities, the two go to knock over a local convenience store. But luck isn’t with them: Another robber strikes while they’re in the parking lot stoking their chemical courage.

They give chase, Sandra fires a warning shot, and soon enough they realize she’s accidentally killed Dean, newly released on bail. What to do with Dean’s corpse and their bloody car? Sandra’s solution is to dig an enormous hole and bury everything. But that only produces more problems, particularly when their argument provokes the revelation that Amanda was the one who got Dean busted in the first place. That news spells a decidedly unfriendly end to the sisterly crime duo.

Nitzberg’s direction often makes a virtue of budget-dictated simplicity; he has a sharp eye for composition and visual fine points. Though some individual scenes feel overlong, that’s mostly offset by the droll dialogue and characters that come to hilarious life thanks to a set of exceedingly well-chosen performers (kudos to Naomi Yoelin’s casting).

Rajskub should be singled out, partly due to the delicious loopiness of her character, but Sheridan, Mills and some of the cast’s supporting players make equally strong impressions. All in all, it’s an ensemble that makes a huge contribution to pic’s success.

Tech credits are generally strong, considering pic’s humble origins.

Bury Me in Kern County

(COMEDY -- 16mm)

Production

A Krank production. Produced by Hayley Marcus, Rachel Frazin. Directed, written by Julien Nitzberg.

Crew

Camera (16mm color), Kelly Evans, Warren Yeager; editor, Charlie Webber; music, Roger Neill; production designer, Jill McGraw; costume designer, Julie Vogel; casting, Naomi Yoelin. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (Cinema of Today), Aug. 30, 1998. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Sandra ..... Mary Sheridan Dean ..... Judson Mills Amanda ..... Mary Lynn Rajskub Oldie ..... Johnny Strong Sgt. Pollock ..... Thom Rachford Dani ..... Sandra Tucker Mr. Decapato ..... Victor Raider-Wexler Grandma ..... Geraldine Allen
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