Item, The: Dan Clark’s Feature Debut

Described by helmer Dan Clark as “a modern art-exploitation flick,” The Item, his feature debut, is more exploitation than art, and more a midnight flick than a legit entry in a festival’s dramatic competition.

As scripter and director, Clark shows some technical talent for combining graphic violence with slapstick humor, but he lacks the disciplined ability to tell a story, which is flimsy in the first place, in a tightly engaging manner. Before pic goes any further, it needs to be sent back to the editing room and lose 15 minutes of its running time.

As strange as it may sound, Wandering Monkey, the production unit responsible The Item, had specialized in creating children programming with strong emphasis on effects-driven creations that are heavy on digital, animatronics, and puppet work. Latter aspects are very much evident in the dark, occasionally hilarious tale that seems to have been imagined by an adolescent. Fashioned like a midnight comic book film, The Item contains some wildly cartoonish moments with slapstick mayhem, but they are unfortunately contained in an unappealing yarn that’s often weird for weird’s sake.

Pic begins well, when four felons are hired by an anonymous client via the internet and are instructed by him to travel to a remote desert location to get a certain “item.” They are to keep the mysterious “item” safe for a day, until the anonymous client will collect it and pay them for their services.

The felons take the item to the apartment of Rita (Judy Jean Kwon), an art student, whose bizarrely decorated crib (covered in dire baby doll sculptures) seems to be a safe place for it. Human curiosity being what is it, however, they begin to examine the item, only to discover a plump worm harnessed into a low-tech life- support container. Surprisingly, the item turns out to be chatty, with an uncanny knack for seeing through people and unravelling personal truths.

Tale’s second hour consists of brief encounters with the item, leading to ludicrously bloody results, when one by one the crew members are eliminated. It’s here that Clark misfires, approximating in his approach Roebrt Rodriguez’s film philosophy of coming up with “inventive” ways of slashing and terminating his cast. One can almost hear the director saying, and here is another revolting mode to present violence. Mark Villalobos deservedly gets a “blood effects” citation in the end credits.

One can’t blame the thesps for delivering irritating, over-the-top performances, particularly Ron Fitzgerald as Dr. Ody, though in the lead role, the beautiful Dawn Marie Velasquez rises above the rest, demonstrating potential for an intriguing action heroine. Since witty humor and narrative ingenuity are spread thin throughout the proceedings, The Item quickly turns into an enervating experience. Tech credits, particularly Michael Mayhew’s lensing and Kristina Alg’s production design, are colorful and campy, but they decorate a movie that overextends its welcome and sends the viewers out with a bad taste in their mouths.