In fairness to co-writer and director E.R. Nelson, "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" wasn't really given a fair chance during its initial screening at the Indianapolis International Film Festival. Without playing the blame game, "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" experienced multiple technical glitches in the early part of the film that were, without a doubt no fault of the director. Thus, the opportunity to bond quickly with these quirky, but likeable characters was delayed and, ultimately, it took a longer time to get into the "Napoleon Dynamite" like groove of the film.
"Pirates of the Salt Lake" has a quirky charm and gentle heart that will either find its niche' audience (as in "Napoleon Dynamite") or will find its second life on DVD (as in most other decent indie flicks).
Filmed over 18 days in Utah, "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" is the sort of low-budget film I enjoy most. Much of this is due to the natural goofball charm and "go for it" spirit of its most noted cast member, Kirby Heyborne. Heyborne, a fan favorite on the LDS (Latter Day Saint) film circuit, has genuine crossover appeal and has had his recent starring role on Fox's "Free Ride" to prove it. Here, Heyborne plays Cap'n Kirk, a "pirate" whose territory is the rough waters of the Great Salt Lake.
You didn't know there were pirates on the Great Salt Lake? Arrrrr, Matey. Where ya been?
Despite waters in which "it is impossible to drown" and the opposition of his widowed, Christian mother (Joyce Cohen), Cap'n Kirk lives his life camping out in the wild by night and helming his modest row boat by day. One day, he befriends Flint (Trenton James), a clean-cut Christian boy who pines away for the beautiful, bad boy lovin' restaurant hostess from his local seafood restaurant.
Together, they set sail on the Great Salt Lake for adventures galore, to get some booty (Get your mind out of the gutter!), and to live out their lives as the pirates they were meant to be.
From idea to script to finished production, "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" was completed in an unheard of six months.
This both works for and against the film...the spontaneity comes alive, often with comical results in the relationship between Cap'n Kirk and his First Mate, Flint. They have a natural, easygoing relationship that makes you constantly smile, even if you don't always laugh.
Have you ever left a film, though, feeling like there was something more to be seen? More of a story to be told? That was my feeling upon leaving my viewing of "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake." The film was over, the stories were wrapped up nice and neatly...but, I didn't feel finished with these characters. A good part of this can be attributed to the script (by Nelson and his writing partner Nathan Phillips), which was finished in a mere one week after conceiving the idea for the title first. As a binge writer myself, I embrace the improvisational spirit that arises from such writing. It can be a goldmine of humor and heart. Yet, in "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" it feels like there's more to be said, comic situations to be explored and even more pirate "booty" to be had.
Despite feeling like there was more to be told, Phillips and Nelson prove themselves particularly strong in character development and natural dialogue. Of course, they wrote the character of Cap'n Kirk specifically for Heyborne and because several of the cast members are real life friends there's a familiarity with each other's dialogue and mannerisms that plays out beautifully within the context of their characters.
As I left the theatre, I felt like I had spent my time wisely. Yet, was there really anything there for me to rush out and share with my friends? Any reason to spread the incredibly important "word of mouth?" Does the film have that vital force called staying power? "Napoleon Dynamite" had its signature lines that became part of America's conscience...can a quirky, likeable pirate comedy do the same?
I seriously doubted the film's staying power. Yet, it passed my "24-hour rule." It has been 24 hours since I first viewed "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake," and I find myself still thinking about the characters, remembering certain lines and, yes, laughing for no apparent reason in public.
Shiver me timbers.
"Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" could easily qualify as a buddy flick for all involved. Several members of the cast and production crew have sailed these seas together before, and their camaraderie is what makes "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" such an enjoyable view.
Heyborne has a field day as "Cap'n Kirk," and gives just the right nuance to the zingy one-liners from Nelson and Phillips. He's sort of a cross between Napoleon Dynamite, Jack Sparrow and a delusional patient from your local mental institution. Even after tragedy befalls Cap'n Kirk, he continues on guiding, inspiring and applauding his First Mate.
If I were a pirate (sadly, I am not!), I would want to be like Cap'n Kirk.
Trenton James, as Flint, combines a schoolboy charm with his version of "pirate lite" to create the perfect complement to Cap'n Kirk. Several times, he reminded me of one of my favorite characters, the disabled young man "Pumpkin" from the movie of the same name.
The supporting cast is mostly a buried treasure of understatement. Emily Tyndall (who actually was in "Napoleon Dynamite) portrays Ruby, the object of Flint's affections, with enough attitude to pull of that "bad girl wannabe" persona. Matt Mattson, as Lance the "Trailer Dude," was a comic treasure and is under-utilized. His presence, much like Heyborne's, was instantly likeable, always interesting, frequently funny and downright sympathetic.
Personally, I'd have rather seen MUCH more of Lance and less of Drake (Larry Bagby), the film's bad guy who has more lives than any of the zombies from a George A. Romero film. Bagby does a nice job, but the character is too one-dimensional to become truly satisfying. A search for buried treasure between Cap'n Kirk, the First Mate and the tagalong "Trailer Dude" would have been truly hilarious and compelling. Throw in an appearance by Drake and others...Avast! You've got even more buried treasure!
"Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" is filmed on HD, making for a crisp, beautiful view of the actual Great Salt Lake. Production values for this low-budget film are simple, yet meet the film's needs and the soundtrack excels. Listen at the end of the film as "Trailer Dude" does a "sweet" version of that classic Styx song "Come Sail Away." It's the perfect end to a fun movie.
"Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" may not contain enough treasure to allow you to buy six beachfront mansions, but it'll make you laugh and smile and maybe, just maybe, make you realize that you're really okay just the way you are.
"Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" is currently on the film festival circuit, and exploring distribution opportunities in the U.S. Visit their website for more information on show times!
Give it a chance...break the curse, and see the quirky, heartfelt "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake."
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic