Movie Review: Move Aside, Denis Villeneuve: “Ripped” Announces A New Auteur In Town

“Either some big studio fallout occurred, or it really took Brad eight years of absolute focus (and heavy marijuana consumption) to create this masterpiece.”


 

Comedy that tells the story of two free-spirited stoners who, after smoking some top secret pot created by the CIA in 1986, find themselves catapulted into 2016. With 30 years of their lives lost, our now balding and overweight friends use their uncomplicated enthusiasm to get their lives back on track and figuring out the modern world.

Brad Epstein’s career as a producer of romantic comedies (“About a Boy,” “Dan in Real Life,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”) may lead one to assume that his directorial debut would delve into similar “girl-meets-boy-or-vice-versa” territory. Yet a closer look at his earlier choices (Q-Tip’s “Prison Song,” “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle,” “Ed”) reveals a filmography as riveting and flawless as his latest film “Ripped,” coming out now, in 2017, hot on the heels of 2009’s “Ghost of Girlfriends Past.” Either some big studio fallout occurred, or it really took Brad eight years of absolute focus (and heavy marijuana consumption) to create this masterpiece.

And a gem this is, a radiant emerald beckoning us in those murky waters of worthless indie filth, like “Norman” (read review here) or “Chuck” or “The Wall,” littering our minds with their incisive commentaries, thought-provoking ideas, and character studies. Simplicity is key, see. The effort and time Epstein must have dedicated to bringing this concept to fruition was absolutely worth it. “Ripped” is bound to go down – scratch that – it’s already been catapulted into the anal canals of cinematic history as perhaps the best film to grace (VOD) screens since… well, since sand scalded Lawrence’s feet in Arabia. Yes, it is this terrific.

I’ll tightly pack the plot summary for you into the bowl, so you can take it all in one bong hit. Ready? Sparking. Harris (Vandit Bhatt) and Reeves (Kyle Massey) smoke a lot of weed, live out of their van and dream big – until their van gets stuck in a ditch, and they wake up 30 years later in the bodies of Russell Peters and Faizon Love. This must be the most clever midway twist since Tom Stall killed Carl Fogarty in “The History of Violence,” and if we’re not on the same page, you may as well stop reading this review.

Still with me? Spark it again. When they see everyone on their cell-phones – obviously strange, new devices to our aged, stoned protagonists – they react in the most poignant and knee-snappingly funny way possible: “Why is everyone on their calculators?” Kudos to Epstein and his co-writer Billiam Coronel for sharpening their dialogue and flair for memorable one-liners. I’ll get back to those – the plot is just so involving.

We follow Reeves and Harris on their misadventures, as they encounter modern technology, get prescription marijuana medication, come up with an intricate business plan and – get ready for this whammy – find love. Alex Meneses’ performances as Debbie, Harris’ love interest, is unforgettable, up there with Hepburn’ and Streep’s best work. When the two of them are on screen, such as when they delve into their past at a record shop, sparks fly that haven’t scathed as harshly since Demi Moore met eyes with Robert Redford in “Indecent Proposal.”

It’s the way Epstein weaves complexities into the seemingly-simple proceedings that really gives “Ripped” its edge. From the get go, the film starts off with a controversial quote: “Marijuana is not a drug. I used to suck cock for cocaine. You never suck cock for marijuana.” It says it’s from an “Unknown ’80s Television Star” but I think Epstein is being modest – this is clearly a passage from James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

A prostate exam halfway through the film made me laugh so hard, I thought I’d lose control over my own bowel movements (damn you, Epstein!). When Harris and Debbie’s son discover Skrillex and turntables, it reminded me of the pure, unadulterated joy cinema can evoke in audiences. Hilarious scenes like the young protagonists stripping in front of a drug dealer or being confused by a contemporary urinal emphasize the way society suppresses the drug culture, and how all the money we spend on the war on drugs should be delegated to the War on Garbage Cinema. The final presentation Harris and Reeves give tops the film off on the highest (pun intended) note imaginable.

As for the aforementioned dialogue, I’ll let those ores of pure gold speak for themselves: “If you go down on me, I’ll take off 10%. If you make me squirt, I’ll take off 20.” “I could hear my ears listening to things.” “I hope that the glutens eat free.” “Better to be pissed off than pissed on.” “Back in the day, the only people who used to wear helmets and pads were retards and women on their periods.”

Though according to a passage in the film involving a newspaper, the project may have been laying on the shelf for close to a year now, looks like there will be a lucky few who will see and appreciate its glory. I’m glad Brad Epstein left his romantic comedy streak in the past, along with those pesky ghosts of girlfriends. Clearly, his “stop-and-go” slew of extraordinary projects all led to this impeccable study of humanity, carefully wrapped under the guise of a stupid stoner comedy – and only the uninitiated, those who don’t appreciate true art, will mistake it for a stupid stoner comedy. Hopefully, there aren’t too many of “those” among us. That would probably upset Mr. Epstein, and I wouldn’t want to distract him – who knows what kind of masterpiece he will drop on us eight years from now.

In theaters June 23rd


 

Alex graduated from Emerson College in Boston with a BA in Film & Media Arts and studied journalism at the Northwestern University in Chicago. While there, he got acquainted with the late Roger Ebert, who supported and inspired Alex in his career as a screenwriter and film critic. Alex has produced, written and directed a short zombie film, “Parched,” which is being distributed internationally and he is developing a series for a TV network, and is in pre-production on a major motion picture.
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