2002 - R - 97 Mins.
|Director: Bryan Johnson
|Producer: Monica Hampton
|Written By: Bryan Johnson
|Starring: Brian O\'Halloran, Bryan Johnson, Jerry Lewkowitz, Ethan Suplee, Matthew Maher
|Review by: Bill King
"Vulgar" is about as pointless as they come. It starts out okay, descends into a pit of depravity and winds up as a revenge picture. Ultimately, though, there's no real reason for its existence. It's barely funny and offers little entertainment value. The only thing going for the movie is that it isn't boring, and that's not exactly cause for recommendation. "Vulgar" is a production of View Askew, Kevin Smith's company that also produced "Clerks" and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." This film was produced by Smith, but the man responsible for it is writer/director Bryan Johnson.
"Clerks" actor Brian O'Halloran stars as Will Carlson, a party clown (under the name Flappy) who gets few gigs and suffers from financial troubles. His home is a mess, made worse due to the bums that loiter outside. To make extra money on the side, Will comes up with a new shtick, as an adult entertainer named Vulgar, who wears clown make-up, fishnet stockings, high heels and tight underwear (think Dr. Frank N. Furter from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show").
Vulgar's first gig doesn't go well at all. Three lowlife perverts call him up and ask him to come to their apartment. What he gets is demented father Ed (Jay Lewkowitz) and his two sons Frankie (Ethan Suplee) and Gino (Matt Maher). They punch him, force him to drink alcohol, make him dance, threaten him with a gun and finally rape him. Johnson is uncompromising in his approach, having the three goons degrade Vulgar as much as possible.
Will confides in Syd (Bryan Johnson) the whole ordeal, with the promise that he keep it a secret. Soon after the incident, Will, as Flappy, saves a girl from her deranged father. Will makes the news all over, and producer Martan Ingram (Kevin Smith) asks him if he'd like his own television show. Will agrees, and soon "Flappy's Funhouse" is a big hit. Then Will's past comes back to haunt him when Ed calls him with a plan to blackmail Will. Will can now either play along or come up with a plan to turn the tables on his tormentors.
"Vulgar" presents an uneven balance of comedy and seriousness. There are few laughs in the film, since most of the characters have little intelligence. The idea of being raped and getting revenge has been done before ("I Spit On Your Grave," "Mother's Day," "Ms. 45"), and the problem with this kind of script is that the character's motive for revenge is a given. It's an easy way to put us on the side of the victim, and therefore any first-time filmmaker can write a script like this. The set-up is easy, the crime is extreme and the victim is understandably upset. The fact that the victim here is a clown changes little.
Brian O'Halloran actually gives a decent performance as Will. He's somewhat likable and doesn't come across as a total loser, but an average guy trying to make an honest living. Jerry Lewkowitz is slimy as the no-good father Ed, who has a bad habit of saying f***face in nearly every sentence. Appearances by Kevin Smith's regulars Jason Mewes, Ethan Suplee, Scott Mosier and Walt Flanagan are scattered throughout.
Flappy the Clown is the mascot for View Askew. You may have noticed him at the beginning of "Clerks." Did we really need to see the history behind this guy? Maybe, if the script were actually challenging, or at least worthy of exhibition. However, that's not the case here, and "Vulgar" is strictly an unpleasant film with minimal drive.