Doll (Ashlee Mundy) is a timid woman in a timid relationship with an apathetic fiance' (John Michael Wagner) who loses herself in a stash of pulp fiction only to find herself tossed into that very world when a mysterious new tenant, Bug (Jimmy Dalton), enters her world.
A neo-noir Executive Produced by Tony Award-winning actor John Benjamin Hickey and acclaimed music video/commercial director Bob Giraldi, Dime Crimes #34 is a refreshingly contemporary neo-noir in that the dame in question is less a passive participant in the world around her than she is a woman who figures out that she alone can turn those escapist fantasies into reality.
Directed by Ed Hellman and written by John Michael Wagner, Dime Crimes #34 is a steamy little intimate thriller with a tension that always sort of bubbles underneath the surface. As Doll, Ashlee Mundy gives a slowly transformative performance devoid of histrionics and heavy on the little changes occur when one begins to find that inner spark - watch her eyes and follow the way that she carries her body throughout a key scene where she moves from victim of her own circumstances to a woman transformed by possibility. It's a blast to watch and an impressive performance that amidst it all she never gives up the film's noirish roots.
As Bug, Jimmy Dalton is appropriately mysterious with an undeniable hint of menace that radiates through every word he speaks and every move he makes. He's never completely threatening, but he's seemingly always on the edge of being that guy in the dark alley who makes you choose to walk down a different alley. It's an effective performance full of seductive tension.
Seemingly stuck with the blandest role, you're not quite clear just how good John Michael Wagner is until the film's closing scene when you're looking at a befuddled fiance' with a look lost somewhere between "What the f*** have you done?" and "I am so turned on right now." It's a perfect touch on a deceptively straightforward performance.
The lensing by Jaime Medrano, Jr. is effective in building an uncomfortable stress between the fantasy and the reality, while Bosley's original music heightens the film's sense of simmering mystery. Victoria Aguila's production design does a terrific job of creating an environment both homey and downright confining.
If I have a minor quibble with the film, and I obviously do or I wouldn't be mentioning it, it would involve a scene late in the film as the power, if you will, is shifting from Bug to Doll and Bug is trying his hardest to maintain both coolness and control. There's an abrupt switch that feels too abrupt given the slow simmer that possesses so much of the film. I wanted to linger, if only fleetingly, on the shifting dynamics and to watch what happens, especially with Doll, as she transforms from victim to victor in her life. While this is a relatively minor quibble that encompasses only a few seconds of the film's fifteen-minute running time, the way it unfolds now definitely pulled me out of the film's otherwise consistent tone.
Minor quibble aside, Dime Crimes #34 is a compelling and entertaining short film that will no doubt have quite a bit of success as it begins its festival journey. With a smart script by John Michael Wagner and top notch performances across the board, Dime Crimes #34 is definitely one to watch for in the coming months.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic