Actor-turned-director Christian Nilsson had a great idea when he set out to do an homage to Brian DePalma’s classic political thriller “Blow Out,” itself a riff on Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow Up,” also a classic.
The hook — that something deadly happened and film, audio and/or video reveals causes that aren’t in the “official” explanation — is all but bullet proof.
But while Nilsson’s instincts for making “Dashcam” an updated, new-tech “Blow Up” were good, his execution isn’t. “Dashcam” is a dry, slow and dull 80 minutes of a loner TV news editor stumbling into evidence that proves a Big Conspiracy behind the death of a famous politician.
It’s a film mostly set in editor Jake’s (Eric Tabach) apartment, predominantly him sitting at a screen as we see what he’s doing on that screen — enhancing audio, opening files, fielding emails and piecing together a story — with occasional breaks of him getting up to do a fake stand-up report in his bathroom mirror. Because Jake’s an at-home editor for a New York TV station, and what he really wants to do is be an on-air reporter.
The story? A disgraced former New York Attorney General (B-horror mainstay Larry Fessenden) was killed in a drunk driving traffic stop that ended in a shootout, with the police officer also killed.
Reporter Tim (Zachary Booth) is anxious to get an account that is the first to show the officer’s dashcam footage onto the morning news. Lots of phone calls, facetime and email nagging.
Jake gives Tim the finger, out of Facetime frame, and mutters “I swear, I could do the job so much better than him.”
It’s Halloween and Jake is skipping a party with pretty linguist girlfriend Mara (Giorgia Whigham) to finish this story.
But the email from the governor’s press office (Why would it come from them?) has not just that :43 seconds of dashcam, but a “confidential” file. Which curious Jake opens. He’s barely perused the autopsy photos and glimpsed the supposedly “corrupted” and unavailable policeman’s body-cam footage in it when his phone rings, and this interrogatory and officially threatening conversation ensues.
Jake sees a scandal. He sees everybody’s worst assumptions of a “conspiracy” proven true. Jake sees his “big break” if he can be the one to turn this into a story that HE reports. That’s why he keeps this information to himself. For a bit, anyway.
“Uh-oh,” we think.
The plot may be fraught with possibilities, but it’s easy to see the potential pitfalls of making a low-budget film out of this.
The limited sets and tight timeframe should create myopia, paranoia and rising suspense. Nilsson has no clue how to make any of those happen.
The shot selection and camera angles are pedestrian, the limited music we hear faintly in the background contributes nothing and veteran bit player Tabach isn’t showcased in a way that suggests there’s any spark to him. He blandly under-reacts to every damned thing that happens.
Some of what goes wrong here strikes me as inherent shortcomings in telling this story in this way. A guy sitting at a keyboard with distracting screen-in-screen messages, files, audio editing and snippets of video is about as fascinating as pointing two cameras at a critic tap-tap-tapping away at a review on a laptop.
Not at all, in other words.
DePalma, filming “Blow Out” in 1980, had John Travolta’s editor character circled in 360 camera pans as the film’s hero cut film and analog audio and rearranged it to tell the “true” story of a car accident that was no “accident.”
The crime scene footage in “Dashcam” is interesting enough, although the different angles make one wonder how this was ever just a single event. They don’t seem to match.
We don’t see enough of Jake’s editing to show us where he’s going with all this, and even the thriller moments — a black SUV parked outside, the “new” footage that changes the narrative of the “news” story — land with the soft thud of an egg dropped on velvet.
There’s no fear for our hero, no thrill of the chase, no “A HA” moments, even though he’s got a linguist girlfriend who can decipher what words might be heard on the faint but amplified tapes of phone taps, police radio chatter and dashcam and bodycam footage.
“Dashcam” is an idea that should have worked, and sadly it’s not even good enough for proof of concept so that Nilsson could remake it with a bigger budget and more compelling actors.
Rating: unrated, violence, profanity
Cast: Eric Tabach, Giorgia Whigham, Larry Fessenden and Zachary Booth
Credits: Scripted and directed by Christian Nilsson. A Hood River release.
Running time: 1:22