COMBAT SHOCK (Director’s Cut)
Director: Buddy Giovannazzo
Starring: Ricky Giovannazzo (Franki Dunlan), Veronica Stork (Cathy Dunlan)
Music: Ricky Giovannazzo
Transfer Quality: Very Good
If this were edited down to 45 minutes I could imagine it receiving some polite (albeit uncomfortable) applause from director Buddy Giovannazzo’s classmates at his community college’s video art class final crit, but as a 91 minute feature it’s a truly insufferable slog. I honestly don’t understand the cult following this film has. Sure, the final scene is brutal, but if you make it that far you’re likely to be left rolling your eyes (as I was) after the amateurish drudgery you’ve been subjected to up until that point. It’s as though Giovannazzo was trying to mainstream David Lynch’s Eraserhead by giving it more characters, dialogue, and a backstory and then filming the whole thing in color. Imagine Henry Spencer but as a Vietnam vet. Oh, brother…
The film opens with our lead, Frankie Dunlan (Ricky Giovannazzo) experiencing a
flashback to his time in Vietnam and his vague recollections of a massacre of some kind that he was involved it. Flash to the present as he wakes up in his filthy apartment and his life of squalor with his wife Cathy (Veronica Stork) and their deformed baby (a la Eraserhead), whose incessant wails seem to be produced by the same synthesizer that’s responsible for the hideous soundtrack. This grotesque being is apparently the product of Frankie’s exposure to chemicals in the ‘Nam. So, he’s got no job, no money, and no food… just a filthy apartment in the worst slum of Staten Island. Frankie’s day consists of wandering around the wasteland (sometimes seemingly in real time) looking for a job and occasionally running into gangs, druggies, and prostitutes who are each trying to squeeze him for money he doesn’t have, all while he blathers on to himself about his predicament. These scenes are interspersed with flashbacks to his time in Vietnam as he tries to piece together what happened there that led him to the horror show that is his life.
I’ll quickly make my case as to why this is a shit movie:
Exhibit A: the interminably dragged-out scenes of Frankie wandering through the
wasteland of 1980s NYC that just fall flat. I mean they go on and on and on and on.
Yeah, we get it, it’s a wasteland.
Exhibit B: the multitude of tangents in the storyline that confuse more than they reveal and, in some cases, don’t even jibe with one another. I still don’t get what the whole thing with his father was all about and that goes on for like twenty minutes!
Exhibit C: the excruciating and unimaginative dollar store take on a Tangerine Dream soundtrack. Seriously, it’s as though Giovannazzo purposefully made a score out of the least interesting noises his synth could produce. I’ll give him credit that the music for the closing credits was good, but then again my elation over the film ending may have clouded my judgement.
Exhibit D: Frankie’s painfully incessant superficial and self-indulgent existentialist
yammering. I mean by the 30 minute mark, I had pretty much stopped caring about what happened to Frankie.
Anyway, I had to scratch my head when reading some reviews where the critics engage with this film as though it were a valid examination of the Vietnam experience and the pain and disorientation of coming back after the war. I mean, that’s gotta be a joke, right?!?
The only interesting thing in this movie is the final scene, which, if taken out of the
context of the mind-numbing 75-minutes that precede it, is so good that it would actually make you want to watch the rest. My advice to you is, don’t do it. (DC)
NW: Nate Wilson DC: Devon Cahill HR: Heath Row MA: Matt Average