The nice thing about being a paraplegic is that if I do piss off the mafia with my review of "The Notorious Newman Brothers," they can't exactly break my legs.
I may need that protection after having viewed "The Notorious Newman Brothers," the latest ultra-indie flick featuring the Butler Brothers, Jason and Brett ("Confusions of an Unmarried Couple"), directed by their co-screenwriter and co-star Ryan Noel.
First, let me clearly state that "The Notorious Newman Brothers" is an awesome idea that is largely well written, consistently funny and spotlights yet another delightful performance from Brett Butler as Thunderclap Newman, a mafia "kingpin" who recently got out of prison along with his brother, Paulie (Jason Butler), and has hired filmmaker Max Chaplin (Ryan Noel) to chronicle their lives.
The film, which has already played at the Outhouse Film and Video Festival, River Bend Film Festival and ReelHeART Film Festival and won the prize for Best Screenplay at Outhouse, is a film that manages to entertain despite the overwhelming impression that "The Notorious Newman Brothers" never quite becomes the film it should have been.
The problem is surely not with Brett Butler, whose energetic stage presence practically begs for a bigger budget film than the indie budgets of "Confusion of an Unmarried Couple" and this film.
I'm not sure if you can fully appreciate the challenge that exists in reviewing an indie film. How does one review a film honestly and critically while also remaining supportive to the independent filmmaker?
After all, why would indie filmmakers continue to send me their films if I'm only going to run slipshod over their efforts?
I love independent films and I love independent filmmakers. I love seeing a heart and soul project put together on less of a budget than most Hollywood films spend even before they've started filming.
While it might be easy to pick on a film that doesn't have all the bells and whistles we've grown accustomed to in Hollywood films, one can't help but admire the persistence, dedication and talent that goes into a low-budget film even if the final result isn't always dazzling.
The Butler Brothers proved with "Confusions of an Unmarried Couple" that they're darn good writers, actors and directors. Despite the obvious challenges of a low budget, I found myself looking forward to "The Notorious Newman Brothers" and, indeed, that eagerness was at times rewarded.
It would be difficult to deny that Max Chaplin (Ryan Noel) is intended to be a wannabe, hack director. So, I found myself willing to suspend my expectations for a brilliant performance.
Max Chaplin isn't supposed to be brilliant.
The problem with "The Notorious Newman Brothers," though, is far too often it the low is readily apparent. While "Confusions of an Unmarried Couple" certainly showed evidence of being a low budget film, it never truly FELT like a low budget film. Too often, "The Notorious Newman Brothers" looks and feels like a low budget film, from its inconsistent tech quality to the thrifty looking production design and, unfortunately, a lead performance from Ryan Noel that is almost painfully annoying.
When the film focuses on The Butler Brothers, "The Notorious Newman Brothers" is yet another promising film that isn't up to the standards of "Confusions of an Unmarried Couple" but is still entertaining. When Max Chaplin enters the scene, however, "The Notorious Newman Brothers" all too often becomes a wildly unfunny and irritating film.
Despite the potentially lethal material inherent in a film about the Mafia, "The Notorious Newman Brothers" is also tamer than their previous effort and, from what I've heard, the other films the Butler Brothers have released. While this may serve to make the film more accessible to festival audiences, it also serves to mute the film's overall impact.
"The Notorious Newman Brothers" reminds me of an old Saturday Night Live skit that is equal parts hit and miss and ultimately overstays its welcome.
While "The Notorious Newman Brothers" feels like a drop from their last film, it's further proof that the Butler Brothers are gifted and innovative screenwriters and Brett, in particular, is a talented actor with a promising future both on and off camera.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic