Now that they have "Venus on the Halfshell" out of their systems, filmmakers Niels and Tess Nielsen might consider reworking their intriguing premise into an edgy drama or a black comedy. Unfortunately, their current collaboration is a tonally inconsistent, aggressively overplayed botch, infused with the sort of desperately cutesy silliness endemic to small-budget indies.

Now that they have “Venus on the Halfshell” out of their systems, filmmakers Niels and Tess Nielsen — he directs, she writes, both produce — might consider reworking their potentially intriguing premise into an emotionally edgy drama or an exuberantly black comedy. Unfortunately, their current collaboration is a tonally inconsistent, aggressively overplayed botch, infused with the sort of desperately cutesy silliness endemic to small-budget indies that pad programs at second-tier fests.

Monica Serene Garnich (of MTV’s “Undressed”) struggles valiantly in lead role of Jackie Zelinski, a comely forest ranger who falls for hunky artist Hendrix O’Hara (Jonathan Aube) after rescuing him from a motorcycle mishap. Hendrix waits until after they’re married to tell Jackie about his budding-delinquent son (Sean Stavropoulos), spoiled-brat daughter (Hannah Thurston) and borderline-psycho ex-wife (Jennifer Gareis). Hendrix gets custody of his kids, Jackie is visited by her ne’er-do-well father (Miguel Perez) — and the extended family plummets to the level of trailer-park trash. Nielsens use Alan Derian’s whimsical music to indicate pic’s humorous intent, but some scenes — including one involving a gun-wielding speed freak — seem jarringly out of place, and would be more appropriate in serious drama about domestic violence.

Venus on the Halfshell

Production

A Nuclear Kitty production. Produced by Roger Mende. Executive producers, Tess Nielson, Niels Nielsen. Directed by Niels Nielsen. Screenplay, Tess Nielsen.

Crew

Camera (color), James LeGoy; editor, Andrea Bottigliero; music, Alan Derian. Reviewed on videocassette, Houston, May 3, 2003. (In WorldFest Film Festival, Houston.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Monica Serene Garnich, Jonathan Aube, Miguel Perez, Craig Tsuyumine, Sean Stavropoulos, Hannah Thurston, Deborah Couples, Adoni Maropis, Jennifer Gareis.
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