Ass Backwards: Sundance Review

Ass Backwards

U.S.A. (Director: Chris Nelson, Screenwriters: June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson)

Loveable losers Kate and Chloe take a road trip back to their hometown to claim the beauty pageant crown that eluded them as children, only to discover what really counts: friendship. Cast: June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Alicia Silverstone, Jon Cryer, Brian Geraghty.

Stooping to conquer proves a misguided strategy for this lowbrow comedy.

"Bride Wars" co-writers Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael reteam to co-star in this lightweight feature.

PARK CITY -- Ill-advised and amateurishly executed, Ass Backwards begins with a passably funny concept and runs it into the ground within 20 minutes. Fortunately, there’s little risk of audiences wasting date money on this clunker, though some viewers might not regret a VOD rental or download.

Kate (June Diane Raphael) and Chloe (Casey Wilson) are single ladies well into their 30s who have been best buds since grade school, which is about the humor level the film is pitched at. Convinced they’re all-that, they’re in fact wildly delusional and oblivious to their lack of any viable game plan for the future. Chloe lip-syncs dance-pop hits as a go-go dancer in a sleazy club, while Kate gets by as an egg-donor for parents-to-be -- hardly promising long-term career options.

A chance encounter with Laurel (Alicia Sliverstone), a former acquaintance and child beauty pageant star who's now a successful self-help author, sends their self-confidence into a tailspin. Laurel’s going to be a celebrity judge at the upcoming 50th anniversary of their hometown beauty contest, which she ruled as a child, convincing the pair to get back into the game and reclaim the crown that they think should have been theirs all along. Naturally, it doesn’t occur to either until some time later that only one of them can come out a winner.

Their journey back to the town of Neptune in a beat-up van is fraught with wrong turns and breakdowns until they’re rescued by a lesbian biker who takes them back to her Sister Solstice “womyn’s” commune, where their beauty-contest aspirations are understandably unwelcome, leading to their forcible ejection at gunpoint. An attempt to earn cash at an amateur strip night and subsequent encounter with a drug- and sex-addicted reality TV personality don’t go much better, and the women soon are parting ways, determined to go it alone in reclaiming the Neptune contest crown.

The climactic scenes at the pageant event, replaying all their worst childhood fears of failure and ridicule, is such a colossal catastrophe that it’s clear why their lives have been in a downward spiral ever since. Whether these lifelong losers can snatch dignity from the jaws of public disgrace appears debatable, but they seem willing to take the entire pageant down with them if they can’t succeed.

Comedy this broad ought to be appealing on some level, and although co-writers and leads Raphael and Wilson are an experienced comedic team with admirable synergy, their screenplay just doesn’t have enough gas to go the distance. Dauntingly episodic, the movie plays like a series of sketches strung together into a feature. By lampooning the lameness of beauty contests, they sink to a level of ridicule that similarly drags down their own performances.

Following up his first feature, Gay Dude, director Chris Nelson exhibits decent-enough comic timing and visual storytelling techniques, but he’s held hostage to the godawful script, severely limiting his scope of creativity. The production overall has an appealing, polished sheen but falls well short of compensating for the lack of substantive content.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Park City at Midnight
Production companies: Prominent Pictures, Playmaker Images
Cast: June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson, Jon Cryer, Vincent D’Onofrio, Brian Geraghty, Paul Scheer, Alicia Sliverstone
Director: Chris Nelson
Screenwriters: June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson
Producers: Heather Rae, Molly Conners
Executive Producers: Paul L. Woodring, Elysa Koplovitz, Paull Cho, Chad Burris, Ky Chaffin, Jeff Steen, Dori Sperko, Jeff Steen, Kali Conner, June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson, Jerri Moore, Reggie Brown, Jeff Pies, Christopher Woodrow
Director of photography: Andre Lascaris
Production designer: Ola Maslik
Costume designer: Kim Wilcox
Music: Orr Rebhun, Erica Weis
Editor: Joshua Salzberg
Sales: UTA
No rating, 83 minutes