“Dead Envy” is a micro-budget indie thriller that doesn’t give away its credit-card financing.
Slick, musical and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, Harley Di Nardo’s “make work for myself” project limits its settings, situations and run time to pull off a minor miracle of a movie — a Venice, California project at Venice, Florida prices.
When your sets are a couple of “movie” bars (fake), a hair salon, a couple of street scenes to establish location and a house, you too can make a movie on the cheap that doesn’t look cut-rate.
Di Nardo, who directed, stars in and co-wrote “Envy,” is David Tangiers, a too-old-to-rock-n-roll band leader whose latest (The Dead Rebels) are a ’50s throwback. Before that, it was Tatonic Spin, and so on.
“How old ARE you?” his manager (Joey Medina) wants to know.
We meet David as he’s losing yet another Battle of the Bands contest in a Venice bar. His ’50s-style greaser ballad gets him heckled, though not by his wife Cecily (Samantha Smart) or this one creeper of a fan.
Javy, played by veteran character actor Adam Reeser (“San Andreas,” “Steve Jobs”), is like a big fan. A very big fan. The fact that he wears a Hitler haircut and keeps his shirts and Army jacket buttoned to the very top, like some Master Race Adam Scott? David doesn’t let that scare him.
David invites Javy to his Art Rock hair salon and pretty much into his life, creeping out the staff, the other customers (Carla Wynn plays an amusing not-so-silent investor). Javy, it turns out, has a secret — he rocks out, too, writes songs. Javy has other secrets which the movie gets around to — eventually.
“Dead Envy” teases us along through David’s frustrating life, not-making-ends-meet while taking “one last shot” at his dream of music fame. Javy could be his secret weapon, or his downfall.
The acting is, as you might expect from even the cheapest picture shot in film acting’s Mecca, pretty good across the board, with Smart standing out, Reeser managing the odd skin-crawling moment and Di Nardo milking his Mark Ruffalo who can Sing vibe. Not bad for a guy who is an actual hair-dresser with rock star (And movie star?) dreams.
Di Nardo knows how to shoot bands and live music on the cheap, and the script (co-written with Stacey Hullah) has a flippant wit that gets it through the early acts.
But their payoff, the “thrills” in the “thriller,” is nothing. Whatever dread we feared leading up to it, the climax deflates in a heartbeat despite Reeser’s bust-a-bottle-over-my-head efforts.
Workshop this script and maybe you figure out you’ve got a dark comedy on your hands, and joke up the third act accordingly. As it is, “Dead Envy” won’t make anybody else trying to film a thriller in Venice Beach for $50,000 jealous — much.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, sexual situations, alcohol, drugs
Cast:Harley DiNardo, Samatha Smart, Adam Reeser, Carla Wynn
Credits:Directed by Harley Di Nardo, script by Harley Di Nardo, Stacy Hullah. A Random Media release.
Running time: 1:12