The curse of Quentin Tarantino remains intact.
Nearly two decades post- Pulp Fiction, young filmmakers are still aping his neo-noirish style of talky comedic stories about desperate souls engaged in terrible activity. The shrewd writer-director knows how to dust a Tarantino knockoff with personal style (see the films of Guy Ritchie); the eager imitator simply brings out the limp.
In the former category we have this woeful directorial debut by Canadian screenwriter Jonathan Sobol. The film received the gala treatment at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010 and was presumably left in storage until now. It has not improved with age.
And yes, it's a dark comedy. The story opens on a glum, muttering reprobate named Duke, played by Tarantino favourite Harvey Keitel, in the process of committing suicide at Niagara Falls (the Canadian side, it appears). He succeeds.
The reading of Duke's will reveals his three eldest boys Cal (Scott Caan), Jacob (Paulo Costanzo) and Nuts (Jason Jones) were subjected to experimental medical tests as kids, and will perish themselves in the very near future. What happened to the money received for the tests? Why, the old man blew it all at the racetrack. Oh, Duke.
From there, the story collapses as the three boyos react to their impending doom with broad comic largesse. Cal attempts to reunite with an ex-felon ex-girlfriend, scarily played by Tricia Helfer; Nuts lives up to his name by signing up for a boxing match with a fearsome brute; and Jacob tries to complete his personal bucket list, which includes, by golly, going over the Falls in a barrel.
The only glue holding the sorry mess together is veteran character actor J.K. Simmons as Duke's brother, a sensible priest named Uncle Pal who periodically has to knock the three stooges’ heads together.
Even then, his sporadic appearances are subject to Sobol's frantic efforts to cover all the Tarantino bases. Slow-motion montage to an old rock song? Check. Rat-a-tat dialogue interspersed with scenes of grisly violence? It's in there. Cool old muscle cars peeling out? You got it.
But there are few laughs along the way and the end result feels like a feeble homage to a better filmmaker. A Tarantino knockoff is forgivable, but not Tarantino Extra Lite.
A Beginner's Guide to Endings
Written and directed by Jonathan Sobol
Starring Harvey Keitel, Jason Jones, Paolo Costanzo, Scott Caan