Movie Review: If the barkeep says “The bar’s closed,” you’d better listen in “The Oak Room”

The latest beta test of the Screenplay Cliches Bot is titled “The Oak Room,” a moody, talky, stunningly-dull and hilariously-trite “thriller” mostly set in a bar — a couple of bars — in remote, snowy Ontario.

Cliche #1? “Bar’s closed.” This overused situation and utterly worn-out line is trotted out more than once in this “I’ve got a story” tale.

Tell me you haven’t heard this before, ANY of these “I watched a couple of movies, time for me to write my own SCREENplay” Cliche Bot excretions.

“I don’t want any trouble.” “You’re not from around here, are you?” “Let’s see you talk your way out of THIS one!” “Don’t play games with me, kid!”

“I’m sorry, have I BORED you?”

Rhetorical question, in this case.

“Oak Room” is a bad “memory play” committed to film, practically a spoof of the genre, only too witless to make that claim. A parade of cliches uttered by “types,” it is tedium itself.

Guy in a hooded arctic jacket and face mask walks into a just-closed tavern. Bartender threatens him with a baseball bat. Guy takes the mask off and it’s “Stevie” (RJ Mitte) a “kid” who hasn’t been around these parts in years. The barking barkeep (Peter Outerbridge) unloads a dozen rounds of invective and threats straight out of the SCB (Screenplay Cliches Bot), about debts, a funeral missed, ashes stuffed in the old man’s old tackle box.

But Stevie’s “got a story.” And he tells it. It’s a flashback, and there are flashbacks within the flashback. It’s about another guy walking into another bar.

Stevie allegedly skipped town for college, but Mitte (“Breaking Bad”), who looks like Will Forte and talks out of the side of his mouth like Carl Spackler in “Caddyshack,” makes the guy seem “simple,” or at the very least “on the spectrum.”

He tells this wordy flashback involving another closed bar, another winter night and two guys (Martin Roach, Ari Millen) talking back and forth in a verbose scenario not unlike the one Stevie and Paul are acting out, one that includes its own flashback.

There’s a threat of violence lurking around the edges of both tales, but what the filmmakers were really interested in here isn’t action — it’s monologues in dimly-lit bars. Endless monologues. Childhood-on-the-farm memories. Barfly tells his “hitchhiking” story to the bartender.

And Stevie keeps adding details in that “I forgot” and “I messed up” because “I told you the ending first.”

Barkeep Paul speaks for himself and everybody who takes a gander at “The Oak Room” when he growls, “If I’m this bored with the ending, why should I wanna hear the BEGINNING?”

Director Cody Calahan (“Vicious Fun,” “Let Her Out”) does nothing to speed things along or give anything that happens any urgency. The actors never lift their characters, situations or dialogue out of the mud of a road traveled way too many times to count.

And, making his feature film screenwriting debut, Peter Genoway? Make him fill out any contracts on future films online. There needs to be a “Are you a bot?” box rider at the bottom of the page. Because this cut-and-paste cliche collection could have been written by a machine.

MPA Rating: unrated, violence, alcohol abuse, profanity

Cast: RJ Mitte, Peter Outerbridge, Ari Millen, Martin Roach, Nicholas Campbell, and David Ferry

Credits: Directed by Cody Calahan, script by Peter Genoway. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:28

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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2 Responses to Movie Review: If the barkeep says “The bar’s closed,” you’d better listen in “The Oak Room”

  1. JC says:

    Any chance you can explain the ending or fill in the plot holes? Cliches aside, I’m dying to know if you can make sense of it? I feel like it would take a sequel just to explain any of it—and I fear that sequel would need another to fill in the gaps the former left behind…

    • Roger Moore says:

      I’ll give it a shot. We’re seeing differing versions, from different points of view, of the same confrontation. The last makes the least sense because you have to wonder how this person witnessed what he claims he saw, or picked up second hand. But that seems fairly cut-and-dried. The final victim’s reactions are way off, considering how familiar this story should seem to him. Run or grab a gun, son. I think the somewhat obvious puzzle impressed others more than you or me, judging from Rotten Tomatoes groupthink.

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