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Featured DVD Review: Pretty Bird

June 24th, 2010

Pretty Bird - Buy from Amazon

Pretty Bird is a black comedy that was made a couple years back. Black Comedies are not easy genres to market, and since the film only earned mixed reviews, it comes as no surprise that it is being dumped direct-to-DVD. Does this film deserve this ugly result, or should Pretty Bird been given a chance to soar in theaters?

Billy Crudup stars as Curtis Prentiss, whom we meet washing up on shore and spouting his mantra. "People may doubt what you say, but they'll believe what you do."

We return to an unspecified time in the past with Curtis returning to the home town of his youth. There, he meets with Kenny (David Hornsby) a friend of his who is a successful businessman and the owner of a mattress store. After a sales pitch so short it is non-existent, Kenny agrees to put everything he has into a business venture with Curtis. His plan: to sell rocket belts (or jet packs to most people.) There is a small problem: they don't know how to make them. This is where Rick Honeycutt comes in. Rick is a unemployed aerospace engineer who is desperate for a job and it is unlikely he will be getting any job offers from any reputable companies any time soon. (He doesn't play well with others.) So, despite Curtis clearly being a nutjob who is grossly unqualified to be the head of anything, he takes the job.

The three men then set about getting their jet pack working, with Kenny supplying the start-up capital, Rick supplying the technical know how, and Curtis, supplying his personal charisma, which he tries to use to secure investors. When Rick succeeds but Curtis fails to secure additional investors and Kenny's money starts to run out, tension mounts between the three men.

At this point, we are supposed to be deeply invested in what will happen to these three men. That wasn't the case with me.

There is a common problem among Indie comedies. Too many such films rely on quirky characters to generate laughs instead of more character or plot driven devices. Unfortunately, this happens in this movie. Curtis was rather quirky, but not that interesting. In fact, none of the characters were all that interesting. Curtis was 90% overconfidence, Kenny was someone Curtis could walk all over, while Rick was a gruff character we've seen Paul Giamatti play before, and in better movies. (American Splendor immediately springs to mind.)

Is the situation interesting? Not really. The big plot device is the creation of the "rocket belt"; however, this fails to be compelling for two reasons. One: making a rocket belt is hardly a technical challenge. Two: there no practical reason to make one.

In the movie, Curtis shows a clip from Thunderball and talks about the "rocket belt" being something that only exists in Hollywood. Here's the thing: that wasn't a special effect. Sure, the close-ups showing Sean Connery using it were special effects, but the rocket belt actually worked and was piloted by a real person. So when Rick creates a working prototype, he didn't invent something, he just remade something that had already been designed, completed, tested, and shown to have no practical use. (After decades of refining, the flight time is still just 30 seconds. There are no safety measures in place should the rocket fail. Etc.) Was there any suspense that it would work? No. It would only fail if the writers decided it would fail. (Adding in the missing part of the blueprint felt like a cheesy way to pad the construction time and add suspense.) Likewise, there was no suspense that Curtis would fail to find investors, because over the past 40 years it has been shown there is no practical use for the "rocket belt". He could only succeed if the writers wanted him to. (Perhaps finding an eccentric millionaire who wanted to fly like James Bond.) Also, he was a terrible salesman and he was destined to fail because of that.

By the time Curtis and Rick had turned on each other, I was no longer interested. When it was finally revealed how Curtis ended up the way he was in the beginning, I didn't care. And that ending was a total cop out.

It's not a total write-off and there are some good performances, including supporting actors like Kristen Wiig and Aasif Mandvi. But again, these actors have turned in better performances in better movies.

Since the film failed to earn a theatrical release, it should come as no big surprise that there are no extras on the DVD.

The Verdict

Pretty Bird was written and directed by Paul Schneider, who is better known for his acting. It seems like he set out to make a movie about three people struggling with the American Dream. But when that dream is, well, stupid, it is hard to be engaged by the story. Add in a DVD that is devoid of special features, and the result is only worth renting, and that's only if you are a fan of the actors involved.

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