Movie Review: Amateurish, clunky “The Contrast” revives a 235 year-old stage comedy

The Contrast” is a slight, slim comedy of manners that is widely considered the “first American comedy,” as it was written and produced on the stage in 1787, and George Washington was among its first fans.

It’s an arid, dry romance about almost-marrying a cad, a plot Jane Austen would recognize, writing as she did on the other side of the Atlantic. That timeworn scenario is updated for a new film that is easily the most amateurish, excruciating dud I’ve sat through since my days helping judge student film competitions.

“Contrast” reminds one that a movie can indeed be “instantly awful,” with the proof here coming from the incompetently-selected, almost-unreadable font for the opening credits. The fact that those credits plug the play that is the film’s source material as dating from “1778” and not “1787” tells you all you need to know.

Nobody even bothered to proofread the GD opening credits.

The setting — the blandest piece of flat California farm country (I’m guessing)– is revealed behind those credits. The players are almost to a one, dull and unskilled. And the writing? It’s a daft blend of contemporary concerns saddled to a 235 year-old “arranged” marriage story, complete with an 18th century style love-letter that gives away the caddish groom’s taste for one of the bridesmaids.

“For lady you deserve this state, nor would I love at a lower rate,” why it’s enough to make a lady take the vapors! “But at my back I will always hear times’ winged-chariot hurrying near.”

Well, that’s sure to infuriate the bride (Joy Villa), about to marry the rich cad (Lee Donahue) to please her marry-for-money Dad (Lance E. Nichols). Will it be enough to make her follow her heart? This guy promises security and a lifetime of cheating. What Maria (Villa) wants is “butterflies.”

Jermain Hollman plays an Army Colonel, sibling to a bridesmaid (Deanna Rashell), who rolls up and is instantly smitten with the bride-to-be.

And director Sean Dube pops up as a Brit-accented debt collector who buddies up to our would-be groom for all-too-obvious reasons.

The Royall Tyler Inn, taking its name from the judge and playwright who wrote “The Contrast” way back in 1787, is where the wedding is to take place. Curiously, for all this trouble, nobody seems to have checked it out in advance, raised an eyebrow that its driving range (golf) and shooting range (skeet) are one in the same, that its staff consists of one surly, lazy nephew of the owner and that the bride and groom have been booked into a cramped attic room.

I could go on, but nobody’s going to read this, much less rent the movie it’s about. Suffice it to say, every clumsy bit of mugging, every tin-eared line, every new scene is its own reason to groan.

If the 235 year-old play this is based on is as bad as this production, I think I’ve discovered the origins of the phrase “George Washington slept here.”

Rating: unrated, PGish

Cast: Joy Villa, Jermain Hollman, Lee Donahue, Lance E. Nichols, Deanna Rashell, Thahn Ta and Sean Dube.

Credits: Directed by Sean Dube and Presley Paras, scripted by Chris Johnson, based on a play by Royall Tyler. A Mill Creek release.

Running time: 1:22

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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