There was a time when, for an actor in search of good roles, writing your own movie was a bold and clever idea. Then came Good Will Hunting and Swingers, and everybody thought they should do it. Then it seemed crafty (and budget-conscious) not just to write your own starring vehicle, and to direct it, but to make the story self-referential — about an actor writing a script about an actor writing a script he wants to direct about an actor who wants to be a filmmaker making films about actors. Were there too many clauses in there? Probably — just as there are already too many entries in this unpromising subgenre, with nary a Good Will in sight.
Using this tired conceit as a framework for ostensibly comic accidental murders and drugged-out dumb decisions, Berserk finds Rhys Wakefield (the head creep in The Purge) directing and co-writing, as well as starring alongside Nick Cannon, who presumably represents a glimmer of commercial hope for the grating, sometimes insufferable pic. Unfortunately, fans of the multihyphenate entertainer may find him a depressing sight here, playing a character whose haggard desperation and fright wig of bleached curls make him a far cry from the kid they loved in the 2000s.
Wakefield’s Evan is just getting dumped by his agent when we meet him — she’s sick of his constant promises to deliver a script he claims he’s writing with his movie-star pal Raffy (Cannon). He gets her to agree that she’ll keep him on if he makes good on a promise she knows is impossible: that he’ll have the script finished tomorrow, and that Raffy will commit to starring in it alongside Evan.
Cut to Raffy’s spacious bachelor pad, where the two men flounder as they try to write. They decide they’re both too pampered to deliver on such a crazy deadline. “We’ve never felt…true animalistic fear,” Evan declares, not seeming to understand the sedentary lifestyle that produces most actual writers. Attempting to jump-start their creative impulses, they do some hallucinogens. Bad idea on Halloween, especially when the neighborhood is already plagued by a serial stalker or two. Add drugs to paranoia to unannounced visitors, and soon the two have killed an innocent man.
But maybe this is just the kind of extreme experience the boys need, to fuel what they’re sure could be an amazing work of art? Few viewers will find this delusion plausible, much less entertaining, but soon more characters complicate things: Raffy’s jealous girlfriend Jazz (Nora Arnezeder) shows up with a gun, angry that paparazzi have caught him having sex with another woman. The only way to calm her down, obviously, is to promise she can direct the script they’re writing. So let’s get back to finishing that thing!
Never really deciding if it hopes to be a black comedy or a sincere dive into violence and self-delusion, the movie stops abruptly at a couple of points so Wakefield can give his co-stars chances to act. His script (co-written by William Day Frank) becomes a pile-up of faux-profound observations about creativity and fame, with gratuitous references to “the 27 club” thrown in. Neither the characters nor the people portraying them are well served by comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and other artists who left their mark before dying at 27. But Berserk is a fine example of the narcissism fueling those who believe they’d be in that club if they died young.
Production company: NCredible Entertainment
Distributor: Freestyle Digital Media
Cast: Nick Cannon, Rhys Wakefield, Nora Arnezeder, James Roday
Director: Rhys Wakefield
Screenwriters: Rhys Wakefield, William Day Frank
Producers: Eric B. Fleischman, William Day Frank, Rhys Wakefield
Executive producers: Eleonore Dailly, Edouard de Lachomette, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones
Director of photography: Mac Fisken
Production designer: Megan Elizabeth Bell
Costume designer: Joanna David
Editors: Sean Ludan, Joe Rosenbloom
Composer: Jongnic Bontemps
Casting directors: Danielle Aufiero, Amber Horn