Adventures of Power: Directed by and Starring Ari Gold

By Michael T. Dennis
“Adventures of Power,” the feature debut of writer-director-actor Ari Gold, chronicles a single adventure in the life of a man named Power, whose one and only talent is the ability to play air drums. In this case, the strangeness is not a good thing.
We meet Power on the job, goofing off at a New Mexico copper mine where his hardhat and work boots complete his eclectic ensemble. Power dances all the way home, performing on an invisible drum set for no one in particular.
Once he reaches his room—a basement alcove in his Aunt Joni’s house—we learn who Power really is. Far from the rock & roll rebel his extra-loud theme music would suggest, Power is a man-child, lost in a perpetual state of innocence and naïvety. Posters for bands that have been broken up for two decades plaster his bedroom walls and a row of cereal dispensers provide whimsical nourishment.
After an unpopular performance at a local open mic night Power is confronted by his father, Harlan, who states his case for what must be the millionth time and tells his son that air drumming is no way to spend his adult life. Worn down from years of working the mines and haunted by the long-ago death of Power’s mother, Harlan is also taxed by the possibility of a strike that he will have to lead if the mine owners refuse workers’ demands.
At this point the rest of the movie is clear: Power will prove that air drumming is legitimate and save the victimized miners. The quest begins when Power hears about an air drumming competition in Mexico. He learns this when a flier advertising the underground contest sails out of the sky, in an instance of hackneyed symbolism.
Power borrows a bicycle from his only friend, a local child who admires his air drumming and unique sense of style, and heads off to prove himself south of the border. Although the air drumming contest is broken up by the police, Power draws the interest of an elite air drumming coach who extends him an invitation to train in his Newark studio for a shot at glory in the upcoming world championships.
The rest of “Adventures of Power” is about Power’s fish-out-of-water experience in Newark, a blossoming romance with a deaf girl (wouldn’t you know it?), and the countdown to the championships. Back in New Mexico, corporate politics overlap with air drumming when the father of Power’s arrogant rival happens to be the tycoon behind the labor unrest.
“Adventures of Power” is Ari Gold’s first feature after several award-winning student and short films. The title character is based on a figure crafted by Gold in his live comedic performances, based on his own idealism and deferred childhood dreams.
“Power” was a selection at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008 and won numerous audience awards elsewhere. This comes as something of a surprise; while “Adventures of Power” might have been a much needed 88 minutes of relief from the typical festival lineup of cerebral fare, festivalgoers in particular should have been able to pick up on the elements pilfered from other, better indie comedies.
The resemblance to “Napoleon Dynamite” is uncanny, from the broad themes of individualism down to the small details, such as a lanky, clueless protagonist with wild hair and bad glasses. “Little Miss Sunshine” also comes to mind, especially in those moments where “Power” decides to abandon comedy in favor of emotional poignancy. This shift, of course, cannot be made at will and the alternation between parody and sincerity gives the film some of its most emotionally dead moments.
Much of what is wrong with “Adventures of Power” could be forgiven if the comedy were successful. Instead it is likely to elicit a few chuckles and little more. A large cast means characters fight for laughs. Introducing so many characters quickly means relying on worn-out types, and with the exception of Power’s love interest there are no truly fresh faces despite a cast of B-listers and unknowns.
One saving grace that keeps “Adventures of Power” from slipping into total meltdown is the setting of post-industrial America. Power leaves his mining town of Lode, New Mexico (which has clearly seen better days) and ends his journey in Newark, where things are somehow even worse. The decaying buildings and dirty color palette comment on the fable about the American dream that’s taking place in the narrative foreground. But once it’s time for Power to achieve success, he does so in Manhattan where the problems of people everywhere else are routinely kept out by toll bridges and bright lights.
Somewhere in “Adventures of Power” is a lost metaphor where air drumming stands in for the need to communicate even when the tools to do so are absent. An opening narration makes reference to a mother’s heartbeat as being the first sound every child hears, but this is never brought up again. Failing to make the link between air drumming and anything more meaningful is perhaps the film’s biggest disappointment. Instead of a lovable loser without the chance to make himself heard, Power becomes just a regular loser with nothing to say in the first place.
Cast
Power – Ari Gold
Harlan – Michael McKean
Joni – Jane Lynch
Annie – Shoshannah Stern
Michael Fong – Chi Ling Chiu
Dallas Houston – Adrian Grenier
Credits
Grack Films, Andrea Sperling Productions, SpaceTime Films, and the Group Entertainment
Distributed by Variance Films
Written and directed by Ari Gold
Producers, Tevin Adelman, Lawrence David Buck, Elizabeth Bull, Gill Holland, Josef Lieck, Don Schain, Wednesday Standley, Chris Stinson, Samantha Weaver, and Christopher Woodrow
Original Music, Ethan Gold
Cinematographer, Lisa Wiegand
Editor, Geraud Brisson
Casting, Jay Scully
Production Designer, Walter Barnett