'6 Dynamic Laws for Success (in Life, Love & Money)': Film Review

Fresher than most aspiring neo-noirs.

Gregory Bayne mixes self-help and double crosses in his B&W small-town noir.

It may start with the desperate burial of a corpse in the desert, but no film named for an earnest guide to self-improvement is likely to linger forever in the hip cynicism commonly found in modern-day film noir: Though stylish in its way and steeped in shadows (director/writer/editor Gregory Bayne also supplied attractive B&W cinematography), the enjoyable 6 Dynamic Laws for Success (in Life, Love & Money) embraces an oddly chipper spirit as its sad-sack protagonist competes with savvier bad guys to find the loot from a long-ago bank robbery. Seemingly made on a shoestring but not suffering much for it, the pic deserves better than the nearly invisible theatrical release it is getting; whatever its box-office fate, it makes a fine calling card for Bayne.

Travis Swartz plays Ulysses T. Lovin, an Idaho man whose life is crumbling when he gets a late-night visit from a silver-tongued salesman. Milton (Ross Partridge) swears he's not here to sell anything, but he has one hell of a pitch: He believes that his sister-in-law Norma (Jennifer Lafleur, Partridge's wife), having robbed a bank years ago with his brother, hid the money in Ulysses' house before she died. Milton says she left it there for her husband (then in jail for the robbery), and sent him a coded message in the self-help book this film is named for. The brother's dead now, but Milt thinks he has decoded the message; if Ulysses will let him dig around a bit in the home's drywall and basement, Milton says he'll split the over $2 million haul with him, 50/50.

Partridge, who bears more than a faint resemblance to George Clooney, is an obvious choice for a film that in sly and overt ways follows the Coen brothers' lead. (For anyone not paying attention, Bayne tips his hat in the closing scene by quoting a memorable Big Lebowski line.) The actor seems to have studied Clooney's comic performances in the pair's films, working some of his physical vocabulary — like the fluttering hand that waves away facts that might muddy a pitch — into his own charismatic performance. Ulysses is sold. But of course, things don't go as advertised.

Soon, Ulysses is on the road by himself, having swiped Milt's book in the belief that its code refers not to his own house, but to the same address in one of a dozen or so other Idaho towns. Though he doesn't know it, he's being trailed by two sisters (Sara Lynch and Lisa King Hawkes) with their own connection to this treasure hunt.

The mannered banter between those sisters doesn't always crackle with the wit the script aspires to, but the threat they pose offers a necessary challenge for Ulysses, who otherwise must serve as his own worst enemy. As we follow his odyssey, the film bounces back in time, showing how the sisters learned of this treasure. A more substantial subplot views Norma in the days immediately following the robbery, as she hides from cops in an unwitting family's house and takes their son (Bennett Huhn) as a sullen hostage on the road.

Making good use of its eponymous book, which Ulysses finds engrossing beyond its value as a treasure map, the film links bits of action to its simple rules (e.g., "When opportunity knocks, open the door"). Clearly, Bayne hopes to let this jobless, cuckolded sap redeem himself through adventure. As in any movie of this sort, there's no guarantee our hero will be a millionaire by the time the credits roll. But he's more likely to be happy than most of his battered-and-betrayed predecessors in the land of noir.

Production company: MPS International Pictures
Distributor: Indie Rights
Cast: Travis Swartz, Ross Partridge, Jennifer Lafleur, Lisa King Hawkes, Sara Lynch, Bennett Huhn
Director-screenwriter-director of photography-editor: Gregory Bayne
Producers: Gregory Bayne, Christian Lybrook
Executive producers: Dan Frandson, Kristina Frandson, Patricia Frandson
Production designer-costume designer: Sara Lynch
Composer: Ryan Bayne
Casting director: Annie Bulow

92 minutes