Film Review: ‘The Toy Soldiers’

Erik Peter Carlson's protracted indie drama about an eventful small-town night feels like a series of labored fringe-theater one-acts.

Constance Brenneman, Chandler Rylko, Najarra Townsend, Jeanette May, Nick Frangione, Samuel Nolan, Thatcher Robinson, Megan Hensley, Andre Myers, Izzy Pollak, Kevin Pinassi, Amelia Haberman, Greg Lucy, Cathy Lynn Yonek, Rogers Harrison, William C. Albert, Danny Whitehead, CJ Natoli, Aleksander Ristic, Timothy Driscoll.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2219214/

A protracted angstfest, “The Toy Soldiers” follows a group of very mature-looking teens during one fateful night that provides plenty of opportunity for histrionics. With its stilted monologues and crudely melodramatic air of “shocking realism,” Erik Peter Carlson’s sophomore feature feels like a series of interlocking fringe-theater one-acts that have only grown more artificial onscreen. Released on 14 U.S. screens, with VOD/DVD launches planned for February, the pic will have a tough time finding much commercial traction in any format.

Mary Harris (frequently over-the-top Constance Brenneman) is a divorced high-school music teacher who copes by getting drunk, popping pills and sleeping with her students. But the primary focus is on her sons and their friends. Jack (Samuel Nolan) dominates the first of five interlocking narrative panels a la “Pulp Fiction” (in structure, that is, definitely not in tone or skill) as he worries over coming out as gay. Everyone already seems to know anyway — everyone, that is, save his none-too-bright girlfriend, Cricket (Megan Hensley), who’s sure to take the news as hysterically as possible.

Jack’s older brother, Elliot (Chandler Rylko), basically a good guy despite some loutish best buds, crushes on snippy Ms. Pac-Man-addicted Angel (Najarra Townsend). After a bowling date that culminates in semi-public sex, she confesses to a revenge killing in which she bludgeoned a man with her roller skates in front of his unconcerned family — a dramatic highlight (““Even his German Shepherds didn’t care that I was making mashed potatoes of his face”), and one of several moments here poised on the brink of presumably unintentional camp hilarity.

In separate segments, slow-witted “Steve the Peeve” (Nick Frangione) and Tourrette’s-afflicted Harold Beaver (Izzy Pollak) naively court “badass bimbette” Layla (Jeanette May), a roller-rink employee who turns penny-ante tricks on the side. With varying success, they each try to protect her from a trio of jeering jocks. A gang rape and a car accident awkwardly bring the pic’s mix of limp sensationalism and thick pathos to a head, reuniting the broken Harris clan as runaway Dad (an awkward Kevin Pinassi) shows up in a penitent mood.

The actors cast as teens look about 10 years too old for their parts, but then “The Toy Soldiers” is a little off on many odd, careless fronts. It’s ostensibly set during the ’80s, but little attempt is made to evoke the era (at one odd point, a broadcast announcement of John Lennon’s death is arbitrarily inserted into a scene notably lacking a visible radio or TV), and some of the dialogue is flatly anachronistic in that regard. It’s frequently mentioned that Mary is a frustrated would-be professional musician and that Elliot has a band, yet neither ever sings or plucks a note. Nothing comes of a minor character introduced as a seeming pederastic threat to the little-seen youngest Harris (Amelia Haberman).

Much of the action is set in or around the imminently shuttering local roller rink, yet the few characters who skate seem inexperienced on wheels, to say the least. Picked-on Steve and Harold feel like one character unnecessarily split into two, serving the same function as pure-hearted defenders of Layla’s sullied honor. A closing series of onscreen-text epilogues solemnly informs us what eventually happened to the major characters, as if they were real people, instead unintentionally underlining how crudely contrived they’ve remained after two-and-a-half hours.

Despite evident budgetary limitations — notably in an claustrophobic, underpopulated feel to action that would like to roam the restless small-town night as freely as “American Graffitti” — “The Toy Soldiers” sports a basic competence in assembly that slightly elevates its material. The same can’t be said of the performers, though they try, some achieving a semblance of naturalism, others more inept or hammy.

Film Review: 'The Toy Soldiers'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Nov. 13, 2014. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 144 MIN.

Production: A Mance Media release of a Riding Hood Motion Pictures presentation Produced by Erik Peter Carlson. Executive producers, Mark Baier, Jeremy Castillo, Sk Manirul Haque, Karla Munoz, Aryabela Nayak, Bhushan Pachpande, Manoj Nayak, Theo Oyagha, Angie Tjimis, Terry Vanderheyden, Mohammed Zabirul Islam, Carlson, Shane Carlson.

Crew: Directed, written by Erik Peter Carlson. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Dan Witrock; editor, Alex Bordino; music, Nathaniel Levisay; music supervisor, Brandon Boucher; production designer, Mark Macauley; art director, Reed Johns; set decorator, Jesse Chun; costume designer, Matthew Peridis; sound, Cameron Selan, Michael J. Ritch; sound designer/re-recording mixer, Christopher Fox; assistant director, Shane Carlson.

With: Constance Brenneman, Chandler Rylko, Najarra Townsend, Jeanette May, Nick Frangione, Samuel Nolan, Thatcher Robinson, Megan Hensley, Andre Myers, Izzy Pollak, Kevin Pinassi, Amelia Haberman, Greg Lucy, Cathy Lynn Yonek, Rogers Harrison, William C. Albert, Danny Whitehead, CJ Natoli, Aleksander Ristic, Timothy Driscoll.

More Film

  • Oscar Nominations Reactions Phyllis Nagy

    Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy Runs for Writers Guild Presidency, Citing Agency Stalemate

    Oscar-nominated screenwriter Phyllis Nagy is challenging Writers Guild of America West’s incumbent president David Goodman, citing his handling of the bitter stalemate between the WGA and Hollywood agents. Nagy announced her candidacy online Monday night in a private online group as part of Writers for Negotiation, which has been voicing concerns about the lack of progress [...]

  • Klaudia-Reynicke

    Locarno: Summertime Picks Up ‘Love Me Tender’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rome-based Summertime Intl. has acquired international sales rights to Klaudia Reynicke’s “Love Me Tender.” The second feature from Peru-born and Switzerland-based filmmaker will receive its world premiere at the Locarno Festival in its Filmmakers of the Present competition, which focuses on first and second features. Summertime Intl. is the world sales agent, excluding and Lichtenstein [...]

  • Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham2019 Writers

    Writers Guild Announces 2020 Awards Show Date

    The 72nd Annual Writers Guild Awards will take place in coinciding ceremonies in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton and the Edison Ballroom in New York on Feb. 1, the Writers Guild of America announced. The WGA will begin voting in November and will reveal this year’s TV nominees Dec. 5 and film Jan. 6. [...]

  • Tarantino Movies Ranked Illustration

    All of Quentin Tarantino's Movies Ranked

    In the history of cinema, has any director done more to elevate the idea of movies as cool than Quentin Tarantino? Certainly, the idea that films could be made by fans dates back at least to the French New Wave, when a group of die-hard critics stepped behind the camera. A few years later, Spielberg, [...]

  • A Stranger on the Beach

    Anonymous Content Wins Film Rights to Michele Campbell's 'A Stranger on the Beach' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Anonymous Content has won the adaptive rights to the forthcoming Michele Campbell novel “A Stranger on the Beach.” In a competitive situation, Anonymous outbid multiple players for the thriller, which it will adapt for the big screen with in-house producers Alex Goldstone and Rosalie Swedlin. “Stranger” has been likened to sensual thrillers like “Fatal Attraction” [...]

  • Ridley Scott Matt Damon Ben Affleck

    Ridley Scott, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener Team on 'The Last Duel'

    Ridley Scott looks to have his next directing job, as he has signed on to direct “The Last Duel” with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck attached to star. Damon and Affleck co-wrote the script with Oscar-nominated Nicole Holofcener. Scott, Damon and Affleck all producing along with Scott’s producing partner Kevin Walsh. Drew Vinton is also [...]

  • Jonathan Taylor Thomas Ed Asner Elliott

    Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Ed Asner, Elliott Gould Seek SAG-AFTRA Board Seats

    Ed Asner, Elliott Gould and Jonathan Taylor Thomas are seeking SAG-AFTRA national board seats as members of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Asner is the former president of the Screen Actors Guild, serving two terms from 1981 to 1985, and winning five Emmys for his role as Lou Grant and two others [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content