Documentaries have proven themselves strange enough that the premise of mockumentary “The Flying Scissors” — a rock-paper-scissors competition, presented a la the real-life “Spellbound” or “Wordplay” — seems like a stretch and a half in the direction of manufactured weirdness. Still, good execution of a lame idea is better than lame execution of a good idea, and this low-budget comedy turns out to be a showcase for an attractive cast, which will likely draw more biz on homevid than in theatrical release. Having played the college circuit, the pic begins a limited run today in New York.
Helmer Jonah Tulis and his co-scripter, Blake J. Harris, certainly know the format, from the awkward zooms and clueless interviewees to the intercutting of domestic drama, organizational chicanery and deep, deep background (thesp Lee Moore’s portrayal of RPS “historian” Dr. Clarence Kay is right on). While the whole rock-paper-scissors theme doesn’t pack much comedic punch, the deconstruction of festival-style docs is pretty much on the money, both in its sendup of the template and the utter seriousness with which the participants approach their chosen “sport” — in this case, a probability-dependent finger game in which skill, if it even existed, would likely be a handicap.
Chief among the players is Phil Stevens (Mason Pettit), who has lost his job and gained the enmity of his corporate lawyer wife, Amy (Kerry O’Malley). Leon Washington (Mike Britt) is a street-savvy vulgarian who terrorizes little girls in his job as a museum guard and approaches RPS as if it were a head-cutting rap war. Anna Carlson (Sarah Wheeler) is a dopey cupcake who ends every contest by thanking God (“the real God, not the Jewish one, or the turban one … “), and divorced sad sack Frank Johnson (Todd Susman) is rumored to have taken performance-enhancing drugs.
Between interviews and backstories for each would-be RPS contender, the drama plays out behind the scenes, where the national championship tournament is being undercut by the competing Coin Toss Consortium. It’s a joke that wears itself out early.
One choice bit involves David Samberg (Benim Foster), right-hand man of RPS honcho Alan Pope (Matthew Arkin), who explains that he hired David despite his previous experience working as a publicist for the Iraq War. The ad David supposedly concocted to help the Bush administration, replete with movie-trailer hysterics and voiceover (“In a world gone mad … “), is probably the funniest thing in the movie.
Production values have all the slipshod qualities of a festival-ready documentary.